Analysis: Calgary Stampeders’ offence stays cold in Red and White game

Photo courtesy: Calgary Stampeders

The Calgary Stampeders limped to their worst record in almost 20 years last season, which includes the entire tenure of head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson.

Though the club still made the playoffs, the focus this off-season was to get better results in nearly every facet of the game. During the recent annual Red and White intrasquad scrimmage held at McMahon Stadium, it was hard to tell if the defence was better, or if the offence failed to improve. Just a single touchdown was scored on an afternoon littered with field goals, working inside the game scripts the Stampeders used.

Instead of a more traditional matchup of offence versus defence, the Stampeders ran eight different scenarios for their charges to attack and defend. The scenarios included situations like “down by two, two minutes to play, ball on the 45-yard line” or “backed up and starting on your own three-yard line.”

There were CFL officials in attendance calling penalties and the players operated at full speed, though tackling was limited in the interest of player safety, so many of the play results have to be taken with a grain of salt.

With that in mind, below is a breakdown of each position group.

Quarterback 

None of the four quarterbacks behind Jake Maier on the depth chart did anything to suggest they could be a serious threat to unseat Calgary’s incumbent starter.

Maier threw an interception into double coverage at the back of the end zone and missed Marken Michel on an opportunity for a touchdown. Otherwise, he looked poised in the pocket and moved the ball downfield methodically, though the deep ball that was missing from Maier’s game last year remains absent.

Matthew Shiltz threw the lone touchdown on the day and showed why the club signed him in free agency with a nine-yard scramble. A few deeper throws fell incomplete, one of which would have been intercepted if not for an offensive pass interference penalty that went uncalled.

Tommy Stevens threw a nice ball to move the chains, but threw an interception earlier in the afternoon on a play that was later ruled a safety in the end zone.

Kyle Vantrease and Logan Bonner also saw action under centre in what is likely a battle for a practice roster spot.

“One thing that’s very evident is, with the tempo of the clock and all that, the quarterbacks have to speed things up. We’ve got to get in and out of the huddle,” said Dickenson regarding his quarterbacks, who took multiple timeclock violations.

“We operate a lot on wristbands and it’s easy to study the plays, but when you actually call a game and they don’t know what’s coming, they have to find them on their wristbands or sometimes I just go off-script and call plays. It felt like we needed to get in and out of the huddle and the communication has to be better out there.”

Backfield

This position group is locked from a tailback perspective as Dedrick Mills and Peyton Logan will be Calgary’s duo this season. However, eight-year veteran William Langlais was added to the six-game injured list and so the fullback position is in play. 

Sebastian Howard, Lucas Robertson, and Paul-Antoine Ouellette each have the size to play the position, though they each have more of a tight end background.

Howard and Robertson were selected in last year’s draft before going back for another year of school, while Ouellette was chosen in this year’s draft out of the Université de Montreal. He may hold an edge as he was also a long snapper at the U Sports level.

Dickenson said he liked the effectiveness of his run game but was unsure if it was the backs or the line that deserved the credit immediately following the game.

Receiver

The Stampeders’ receiving corps isn’t new by any stretch, but at the same time, this isn’t the same group of weapons that was available to Jake Maier last season.

Malik Henry, Jalen Philpot, and Clark Barnes were lost to season-ending injuries last year and the regression in the passing game was evident. Barnes made the toughest catch of the scrimmage, picking one off his shoelaces to show that the Stampeders may have an absolute steal from the third round of last year’s draft.

Newcomer Isaiah Epps made a few catches in an effort to stand out and Tre Odoms-Dukes, who started 14 games last year, caught the only touchdown on the day.

Offensive line

While it’s hard to judge the line in these types of scrimmages, the quarterbacks had a decent pocket to throw from on most of the plays.

The Stampeders traded up to get Christy Nkanu in this year’s draft and had him in a few places along the line, including centre. His shotgun snaps were on target, if a little slow getting back to the passer, but the rookie should only see action there in the event of an injury to Sean McEwen.

Tackle will be the focus of the preseason action, as again only simulated judgement calls were available to determine whether or not a sack took place.

Defensive line

Like with the offensive line, it was difficult to judge the defensive line on their play given they can’t tackle in a scrimmage setting, but they pressured well and perhaps should have been credited for more than just the three sacks they were awarded.

James Vaughters, who is back from injury, and perennial all-star Mike Rose will lock up two spots on the line, but there are still 17 players at the position competing for spots, so it’s clear the Stampeders are still searching for answers alongside Vaughters and Rose.

The departure of two-time Presidents Ring winner Derek Wiggan and Isaac Adeyemi-Bergland to the Montreal Alouettes has opened a spot for a Canadian starter and it remains to be seen if the club will stick with one along the defensive line.

Linebacker

Cameron Judge and new father Micah Awe will be patrolling the field for Calgary this season with both coming off of stellar seasons one year ago.

Awe was in typical form as he hammered LeVante Bellamy in what was supposed to be a non-hitting session, though it didn’t appear as though he meant to and had merely gotten to the spot too fast to slow down.

Defensive back

This is the largest position group by far in camp with 21 players currently on the roster, meaning players will need to do something special to stand out.

That’s exactly what Malcolm Thompson did as he seized his chance by grabbing an interception in the end zone and running it out to near the 30-yard line before being declared down.

The Wilfrid Laurier product has taken a roundabout path in the CFL, originally signing with Calgary as an undrafted rookie in 2020 season before being cut in camp the following year. He has since played with Hamilton and Winnipeg before rejoining the Stampeders partway through last season.

Dickenson has commented frequently about how a lack of interceptions hurt the club last year and how the team needs to find defensive backs that can generate turnovers.

Outside of the Thompson interception, the nicest defensive play of the day came from Branden Dozier, who perfectly timed a dive at a receiver to knock away what looked like a wide-open catch while patrolling at safety.

Special teams

The question for Campbell Fair is not if he will be the Stampeders kicker, but when. Rene Paredes, who recently turned 39, will do the job until he retires and, if Fair decides to wait for that day, he will have a bright future in Cowtown.

Fair pounded the ball with accuracy and distance and, if he wasn’t behind the greatest to ever do it, we may be having the conversation.

No punt scenarios were run during the scrimmage, giving Cody Grace a rest.

The Stampeders will host the B.C. Lions for their first of their two preseason games on Saturday, May 25. The matchup will be streamed live on CFL+. 

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