Dickenson’s ‘hardest’ decision was Stampeders’ returner job

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Cutdown day means long hours and difficult choices for CFL head coaches and general managers, but while other team’s are pulling out their hair to determine a starting quarterback or reset their linebacking corps, the Calgary Stampeders get to agonize over the minutiae.

With final decisions looming, head coach Dave Dickenson is comfortable with his choices elsewhere on the roster. He just doesn’t know how to make heads or tails of the battle at kick returner.

“That’s the hardest one for me. I think all of them have caught the ball extremely well and could do the job well for us,” Dickenson said Thursday, just hours before his team announced their first wave of cuts.

Calgary has a recent history of great return men, with players like Roy Finch and Terry Williams making their presence felt in big moments. This year in camp, observers say that none of the likely candidates separated themselves from the pack.

The early favourite among the media was former XFL running back Trey Williams, a versatile offensive weapon who notched some big returns at Texas A&M and even had a punt return touchdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. By the end of Thursday, Williams was no longer with the team, one of several potential returner candidates axed in the first wave of cuts.

With a few more decisions left to make and a practice roster left to formalize, Dickenson was frank about just how subjective his criteria for the job is without the benefit of preseason games.

“Without seeing anything live, I’ve just got to go back and decide who looked the best on his resume in the past,” he admitted. “Who’s scary? Who can cause another team to really have to scheme?”

That appears to give the leg up to diminutive receiver Sean Riley, a five-foot-eight, 157-pound spark plug out of Syracuse. In four seasons with the Orange, he finished third in school history with 4,358 all-purpose yards, including 2,433 on kickoff returns and 563 on punt returns. He set Syracuse records in both career kickoff returns (115) and kickoff-return yards, but only has one career return touchdown to his name.

Reports indicate that Riley was working in the returner spot on Friday alongside former XFL receiver Dan Williams III, but the club has not yet finalized their active roster or provided official confirmation of who will claim the role.

Even if it is Riley’s job on opening day, Dickenson will still take a wait and see approach on special teams.

“We’ll go with that decision and then just let the year play out. As long as it’s going well and things are what we want, that guy has that job,” he stressed. “If not, maybe we try someone else.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.