10 takeaways from the Stamps’ preseason opener

Photo courtesy: David Moll/Calgary Stampeders

In the 181 days since the Calgary Stampeders fell short in the 2021 West Division Semi-Final, the perceived bloom of the Stamps’ rose has wilted.

The CFL Power Rankings put the team seventh of nine.

Even within the 3DownNation staff, some are predicting the Stampeders will fail to make the playoffs this year.

Yet, with a 41-6 victory over the Lions, it seems like the Stampeders are once again showing signs that the rumours of their demise are grossly exaggerated.

Here are the 10 things you should know about the game:

The starting offence didn’t look great

Bo Levi Mitchell and the rest of the starting Calgary offence seemed out of sync during the quarter of action they saw. Mitchell threw a pair of interceptions in the green zone, including one where no Stampeder pass-catcher was within 15 yards of the ball. Clearly, there was confusion as to where Mitchell thought the receiver was going to be. It looked from my seats in row 52 that the receiver ran a corner route instead of a post route, but that is what the preseason is meant to iron out.

The second interception was picked off on a forced attempt to find Colton Hunchak in the endzone. Hunchak got several targets from Mitchell and twice they ended up in turnovers, as there was also a midfield incompletion on third-and-five.

Reports out of Stamps camp suggest that Mitchell has been the best of the quarterbacks in practice and after the game, the undisputed starter was in a near jovial mood speaking about his teammates making the most of their opportunities.

Regarding his own performance, where three drives ended in turnovers, Mitchell knows he has to be better after going just 3-of-10 in the passing game.

“Let’s just say it wasn’t perfect,” Mitchell said after the game “There was some miscommunication, and that’s fine. I’ll definitely eat those, and that’s fine. There are things we can clean up, and obviously, I can take care of the ball and not even put it in harm’s way at all.”

The defence on the other hand

While everyone was aware the Lions were not at full strength in this game, dressing only 50 players and leaving the rest at home, the Stampeders still only surrendered six points.

While the Lions did have a few attempts at a field goal — more on that later — they only crossed the Calgary 30-yard line once and a holding call pushed them back outside that mark on the next play.

Former Stampeders quarterback Michael O’Connor played three quarters for the Lions and went 17-of-23 for 151 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown to Jamarius Way for B.C.’s only score of the day.

In a game that didn’t feature Tre Roberson patrolling the defensive backfield, the Stampeders largely took away anything resembling a deep throw and only allowed plays underneath, with the exception being that one lone touchdown toss.

Special teams were exactly that

I’m not sure there is a coach in the league that wouldn’t take what the Stampeders’ special teams squad was able to accomplish in the preseason opener.

Given the CFL’s new rule that changed the “no-yards” infraction to an automatic 15-yard penalty regardless of circumstance, the idea that the Stamps allowed seven yards of returns combined over four punts is remarkable. There were no such penalties committed by the Stampeders as well.

Combine that with a punt return touchdown from Shawn Bane and a Brad Cowan punt block that was recovered inside the B.C. five-yard line, and it seems as though special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Mark Kilam once again has his squad firing on all cylinders early.

“We have a great special teams group. We have a great coach in Mark Kilam, and we were good for all of last year minus one game, the West Semi-Final,” said head coach Dave Dickenson after the game. “We weren’t ourselves and we didn’t play like ourselves and we want redemption. That group is a good group. We have big bodies, we are fast and we are well-coached.”

That Mark Kilam hasn’t been hired away from the Stampeders continues to amaze me.

Lions’ kicker struggles to find the uprights

For the second straight season, a Lions’ kicker has struggled at McMahon early in the season and it may cost him his opportunity.

Last year, Takeru Yamasaki went 2-of-4 on field goals and found himself without a job following a Week 2 win in Calgary.

This time, it was Mark Milan missing all three kicks he attempted, two field goals and a convert, while only garnering a 36-yard average on six punts, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Worse yet, as of this writing, Milan’s CFL player page returns a “404 not found” designation.

While never one to wallow in someone’s misery, I’d be surprised to see Milan survive the next round of cuts.

Bane delivers backbreaker

One player that did make the most of his opportunities in this game was Shawn Bane Jr.

Taking the reps for late scratch Malik Henry, Bane caught 4/5 targets for 42 yards — including 29 yards after the catch — and added 124 return yards. His 74-yard punt return touchdown just before the half got the Stampeders going and took the wind out of the Lions’ sails.

Bo Levi Mitchell was impressed by what he saw from Bane and knows that whether it’s Bane or Henry that steps on the field, the Stampeders have a dynamic returner working for them.

“They both have the speed, the wherewithal to hit [the hole]…” Mitchell said “I think that’s the hardest thing about punt return. You see a lot of guys, they catch the ball, stop their feet and look around. Shawn and Malik go vertical right now, which is what Kilam always preaches.”

Backup RB Battle

Ka’Deem Carey is the undisputed king of the Calgary backfield for as long as he is healthy.

That said, both Peyton Logan and Dedrick Mills looked very comfortable taking the handoffs Saturday, garnering 28 and 55 yards respectively.

Logan’s totals would have been higher, but he had a few 10+ yard carries nullified by penalty. Logan was also used as a returner and showed some smooth hands on a line-drive kickoff that was headed over him before he turned to make a nice over-the-shoulder catch and turned it upfield.

Mills looks like a hard-charging north-south style running back and, at 5’10” and 220 pounds, could add some thunder to Carey’s lightning in the Calgary backfield.

QB Rotation

While the quarterback situation in Calgary is clearly Mitchell starting with Jake Maier as the backup, Tommy Stevens sure looked good as a short-yardage specialist.

At six-foot-five and 245 pounds, Stevens is massive and he used that size to his advantage on two quarterback sneaks. The first generated an easy first down, the second a touchdown.

Since Andrew Buckley hung up his cleats in exchange for a stethoscope, the Stampeders have been inconsistent in third-down gamble situations.

If Stevens can make himself into the go-to guy for third-and-short, that is a quick way to secure a full-time roster spot.

Love Schakel Baby!

Josiah Schakel, the Stampeders’ second-round pick in this year’s CFL Draft, could not have had a better start to his career, coming down with an interception and getting into the endzone for a pick-six.

“I just saw the ball go up, and I was running to the ball and saw my d-end there,” Schakel recalled post-game. “My first reaction was that if he catches it, I’m going to have to go block for him. It went through his hands and it was just quick reactions, and I was in the corner of the endzone.”

That he got a pick-six in his first career game was also a shock to Schakel as well.

“I only had one pick-six in my entire university career, so if you were to tell me that in my first game playing professional football, I’d be having a pick-six, I’d be like [*a noise indicating doubt*] chances are low.”

Protection provided

The Stampeders’ offensive line provided all four quarterbacks with ample time to throw the ball, surrendering just a single sack on the afternoon, but their run blocking was arguably even more impressive.

The Stampeders rushed for 134 yards on 25 attempts for a 5.7 yards per carry average.

If they can open those kinds of holes consistently this season, Ka’Deem Carey will be feasting on teams.

Where have all the cowboys gone?

The announced attendance at McMahon Stadium was 18,440, which is already a concerning number.

More concerning was that number included every season ticket holder being offered a free ticket for every ticket already in their account. There may have only been half that many people actually in attendance.

For my part, as a season ticket holder in some shape or form since I was a teenager, I made sure that all my extra tickets were used and brought my son and four of his teenage friends that had never seen a game before.

Not enough people got the memo though, as it was a virtual ghost town on a gorgeous sunny day.

Before the season, Stampeders’ president and general manager John Hufnagel said that ticket sales weren’t where the team wanted them to be and if this game is an indication of the future rather than an outlier, then the Stampeders will likely fall well short of projected revenues.

Next up for the Stamps is a trip up Highway #2 to face the Elks on Friday night.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Horsemen Radio Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.