Stevens struggles, Bonner shines in Calgary Stampeders’ inter-squad game

Photo courtesy: Calgary Stampeders

The battle for the Calgary Stampeders’ backup quarterback job is one of the most intriguing storylines in training camp and it took an interesting turn on Saturday during the club’s annual inter-squad Red vs. White game.

Tommy Stevens was the third-string quarterback last year behind Jake Maier, who is now the club’s undisputed starter, and Bo Levi Mitchell, who was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the off-season. He made the most of limited time on the field and excelled as a short-yardage specialist who was always capable of breaking one for a big gain.

Stevens was so prolific in the role that he has as many rushing touchdowns as pass attempts in his young CFL career. He has 56 carries for 297 yards and nine touchdowns and has completed six-of-nine pass attempts for 41 yards and one score.

While I’m admittedly not at practice every day, after seeing Calgary’s first preseason game and the action at McMahon Stadium this weekend, it wouldn’t shock me if Logan Bonner supplants Stevens on the depth chart to become the backup for the Stamps this season.

Bonner casually led a two-minute drill for a field goal early in the session before finding first-round pick Cole Tucker on back-to-back-to-back plays to get the ball into the red zone. He then hit veteran slotback Colton Hunchak for a touchdown pass.

The Utah State product didn’t hesitate to throw into traffic and consistently found the hands of his receivers in tight coverage. He said the Canadian game is becoming more and more familiar, especially when dealing with the waggle.

“The first couple days, you’ve got the hands and the motion and you have to get the timing of it,” the rookie quarterback said, referring to the motion of his receivers. “When they get to the line of scrimmage, they are going to the same spots as they would if they were standing still, they are just getting there a little faster.”

Stevens played a few series and, with the exception of a miracle 55-yard catch by Tyson Middlemost near the sideline, he didn’t do much with his arm. He had several incompletions and although he suffered from some drops, there were times he looked too comfortable tucking the ball and running.

Last season, Stevens bristled when he drew comparisons to former Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback Chris Streveler, suggesting that he wanted to get more opportunities to throw the ball. Aside from the Middlemost catch and his touchdown pass to Clark Barnes against Edmonton, it just hasn’t happened yet for the Stampeders’ sophomore slinger.

There’s certainly a place on this team for Stevens but it doesn’t seem that he’ll be the first man up if Maier is unable to answer the bell.

Speaking of the club’s new starter, there wasn’t anything flashy about Maier’s performance but he also looked like a player worthy of the top spot on the depth chart. Maier ran the offence effectively and had a touchdown pass dropped in the end zone.

The drives with Maier at the controls all ended in scores, which is something Stampeders’ coaches and fans had to be pleased with after a ho-hum performance against the Elks in a quarter of work on Monday.

Rysen John, the six-foot-seven former tight end, was popular against Edmonton as he had three targets, though he didn’t bring down a catch. Things played out similarly on Saturday as his many targets fell incomplete.

“I felt like he had some chances to make some catches, but whether or not they were tough or contested catches, it sure looked like it. But that’s how you get on the field and that’s how you become a starter,” said head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson following the scrimmage.

Dickenson also mentioned that it’s difficult in scrimmages to evaluate the defence given that no actual tackling is done. He expects to see more aggressiveness in the club’s final preseason game against the B.C. Lions next week.

Finally, the day kicked off with the rookies on the team singing the national anthem. Thank goodness they can play football, because the group of around 30 players were hopeless as singers. The coach was more impressed by the attempt than worried about the result in this instance.

“It was loud, better than other years,” Dickenson said of the low moaning funeral dirge that was supposed to be O Canada. “I think they liked it.”

Typically in journalism you replace an ambiguous “they” with a parenthetical reference to whom the speaker was referring, but your guess is as good as mine in this case.

The Stampeders will likely be happy with the results they saw today as they showed progress over a sloppy preseason win over the Edmonton Elks a week ago. The upcoming week will features the club’s final preseason matchup against B.C., so the competition for jobs will only get more intense from here.

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