As the sun rises on another season of CFL training camps, it also sets on the Grey Cup reign of the 2018 Calgary Stampeders.
Training camp is officially underway and the Calgary Stampeders have a lot of questions to answer and holes to fill after handing out the rings celebrating their eighth Grey Cup Championship, and third of the “Hufnagel Era.”
The single biggest off-season question was answered a few hours into free agency when Bo Levi Mitchell signed a four-year contract that made him the second-highest paid player in the league. The sacrifices the team will have to make to fit that under the new cap guidelines, assuming ratification, remain to be seen.
Last season also featured two players on the defensive side of the ball that dominated and were among the best at their positions. Micah Johnson and Alex Singleton have both moved on from the red and white to different combinations of green and white, signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Philadelphia Eagles respectively.
Filling those two holes specifically is the biggest challenge for this defence that will be rebuilding in other spots as well.
Let’s take a look at some of the training camp battles we will see and who might be the front runners for those positions:
With the departures of Singleton and Jameer Thurman to the NFL, the Stampeders have to replace the 205 defensive tackles that the two players provided defensively.
The early money has Cory Greenwood slotted in as the starter at MLB as the Stampeders would love to stay National at the position. However, Greenwood has spent a substantial amount of his career on the trainer’s table and at 33 years old has yet to play a full season in the CFL, topping out at 12 games in Toronto in 2016.
Riley Jones may also be an option here as the undrafted linebacker backed-up Singleton through most of last season and certainly caught the eyes of the coaches including new Defensive Coordinator Brent Monson.
Wynton McManis and Dwayne Norman will be among the names competing for the other available spot in the linebacking corps. McManis led the loop last season with 25 special teams tackles.
Reviewing the Stampeders Defensive Line, which lost Micah Johnson and Ja’Gared Davis, there seems to be some opportunity for some new roster players to earn a job and with 14 players in camp at the position, the competition will be fierce.
Folarin Orimolade will likely get the first look at DE to bookend Cordarro Law. Law is another Stampeder that has fought the injury bug in his time here, landing on the six-game list in each of the last two seasons, missing 2017 entirely and 11 weeks of the 2018 season.
Junior Turner and Derek Wiggan will resume their rotation at the National DT spot with Ese Mrabure and recent draft pick Vincent Desjardins trying to make inroads against the veteran Nationals.
Another player to keep an eye on is recent addition Jonathan Massaquoi. After bouncing around the NFL for a few seasons, and playing in the ill-fated AAF, Massaquoi bring a substantial amount of experience with him and may move to the top of the depth chart as a result.
The Safety position became a little clearer with the sudden retirement of Adam Berger a few weeks ago. Free agent acquisition Courtney Stephen will be starting there unless someone absolutely shows out in camp.
Brandon Smith, Jamar Wall, and Tre Roberson will all likely retain their starter status and last year’s training camp darling, and one of my favourite names on the roster, Gump Hayes will likely earn the other CB slot. That may be a temporary assignment though if Ciante Evans decides to return to the CFL after recovering from a broken arm. As of now, the club has planned to move on without him but Evans was one of the premier CFL corners and I’m sure they would welcome him back with open arms when healthy.
At halfback, DeShaun Amos played a few games after signing with the club in October last season and may get the starters nod for now after Emmanuel Davis wasn’t re-signed. Those are rather large shoes to fill after Davis was spectacular for this defence last season.
There are 17 DB’s in camp so an unfamiliar name may rise to the top and in Calgary, often does.
Bo Levi Mitchell. That is all.
Don Jackson and Terry Williams provided a Lightning and More Lightning approach at running back last season. Romar Morris was released by the team as it seems his injury from last year’s Western Final may keep him out of the CFL for the entire season.
Jackson brings an intensity to the Stampeders offence that some offensive linemen have told me is incredibly infectious. He plays the game with a trench fighter mentality that the men up front really appreciate.
Former Chicago Bear, and aptly named for a RB, Ka’Deem Carey may now figure into the mix, especially if Stampeders Head Coach Dave Dickenson chooses to protect Williams as his returner and limit his offensive opportunities.
Carey is a former All-American who had limited carries in his time with the Bears and should have plenty in the fresh legs department.
Kamar Jorden will be on the injured list for likely the first half of the season and for most teams losing a player of his calibre would be a devastating blow. Especially when you consider they also saw Chris Matthews leave for Winnipeg, and Marken Michel head to the NFL.
However, here in Calgary, the depth at International receiver is astounding. Eric Rogers, when healthy, is one of the CFL’s absolute best at getting up and getting the football. Markeith Ambles and Reggie Bagelton both performed at a high level when called upon last season.
Bo Levi Mitchell became the first CFL Quarterback to go over 5,000 yards passing without a 1000 yard receiver. While that speaks to the efficiency of the offense, and Mitchell himself, any of the men tasked with hauling in the pigskin last season did so in spades.
NFL vet Griff Whalen has reportedly looked very good in rookie camp, but that is to be expected for a long time NFL vet.
On the National side, Juwan Brescasin had the catch of the year in week one and followed up with his best statistical season hauling in 35 catches for 567 yards. Dave Dickenson is on record saying they will likely start two national receivers this year and the progression of Brescasin is a large part of why.
Richard Sindani, first-round draft choice Hergy Mayala, and Julan Lynch will all be looking for reps at the Z receiver spot.
The Stampeders OL gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year, surrendering just 1.5 per game for a total of 27. There will likely be a new voice calling the shots this year with Ucambre Williams headed from Center out to play Tackle.
On the other end is Derek Dennis who returned to form after coming back to Calgary last year after a less than impressive time in Saskatchewan.
The interior of the line will be anchored by longtime guards Shane Bergman and Brad Erdos.
Ryan Sceviour will get the first shot at centre. Sceviour got into just one game in his rookie year as a reserve, but could provide a nice ratio boost for the Stamps who played three internationals on the line last year.
Should Sceviour work out at centre, the Stampeders would be starting nine National players this season giving Dickenson a whole lot of flexibility. Additionally, the new proposed international starters requirement is easily filled for this season as well.
The quest for a repeat starts today, and not that they need the extra motivation, but with the big game at McMahon this season, the Stampeders will be looking for every roster opportunity they can find to get to the dance for a fourth consecutive year.