Friday, May 29, 2015
CFL THIS WEEK
Since 1996 only the Toronto Argonauts ('96-97) and Montreal Alouettes (2009-10) have repeated as CFL champions. That's not exactly good news for John Hufnagel and the Calgary Stampeders, who won the 2014 Grey Cup with a thrilling 20-16 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at B.C. Place.
Calgary will look to buck that trend starting Sunday when CFL training camps open. And Hufnagel says the Stampeders fully understand the difficulty of the task before them.
"I think something we have (is) a great understanding of the difficulty of the task,'' Hufnagel, Calgary's head coach and GM, told reporters recently. "Everyone's goal is to win the Grey Cup, our goal is to repeat.
"We just have to keep a level head, make sure we're working as hard as we can getting ready to play good football each and every week. The biggest thing is to meet your first goal, which is to get into the tournament. Once you get into the tournament, do some damage.''
Calgary will open camp with many of the faces who led it to a CFL-best 15-3 record last season. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the Grey Cup MVP, returns after signing a contract extension this off-season while running back Jon Cornish, the league MVP in 2013, chases a fourth straight league rushing title.
But Calgary has holes, especially on its offensive line with the departure of centre Brett Jones and tackle Stanley Bryant. Jones, the CFL's top lineman last year, signed as a free agent with the NFL's New York Giants while Bryant joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this off-season.
Defensive end Shawn Lemon, who had 13 sacks last season, signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers while receiver Maurice Price was dealt to Ottawa and slotback Nik Lewis went to Montreal as a free agent.
However, Hufnagel heads into training camp happy with his team's depth and is eager to see if younger players can push incumbents for playing time.
"Right now, on paper, I'm comfortable with the depth and competition,'' Hufnagel said. "I'm looking forward to seeing guys react and compete on the field and see what type of team we may be able to become in 2015.''
Here's a look at the other CFL teams heading into training camp.
Jeff Tedford begins his first season as head coach but all eyes will be on quarterback Travis Lulay, who has been hampered by shoulder injuries the last two seasons. Among the veterans gone following last year's fourth-place finish are kick-returner Tim Brown, Canadian receiver Kito Poblah, running back Stefan Logan, defensive lineman Eric Taylor, defensive back Korey Banks (traded to Winnipeg for Poblah) and defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell (Montreal, free agent).
Edmonton (12-6) finished second in the West and reached the conference final under rookie head coach Chris Jones after posting a 4-14 mark in '13. Quarterback Mike Reilly threw for 3,327 yards and rushed for 616 more before being hampered by a late-season foot injury. Veteran slotback Fred Stamps was dealt to Montreal for receiver Kenny Stafford and Canadian slotback Cory Watson was acquired from Saskatchewan.
Starter Darian Durant returns after suffering a season-ending elbow injury against Winnipeg last September. The Riders lost seven-of-nine games without Durant. Also back is slotback Weston Dressler, who missed the first eight games last year while with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. But there are questions up front with the departure of tackle Ben Heenan (NFL's Indianapolis Colts) and centre Dom Picard (released, now with Winnipeg).
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
A last-place finish spoiled Winnipeg's return to the West Division last year - it had been in the East from 2006-13. The Bombers opened with a 5-1 record under rookie head coach Mike O'Shea but won just twice more the rest of the way. GM Kyle Walters re-signed quarterback Drew Willy before dipping into free agency for receivers Darvin Adams and Jordan Reaves - the son of former Bombers' running back Willard Reaves - offensive linemen Bryant and Marc Dile and Canadian linebacker Sam Hurl.
Hamilton has won the East Division the last two seasons under head coach/GM Kent Austin. Quarterback Zach Collaros had a solid first campaign as a CFL starter, completing over 65 per cent of his passes for 3,261 yards. Receiver Luke Tasker (72 catches, 937 yards, five TDs) and receiver/kick-returner Brandon Banks both re-signed but the club will be without former Toronto receiver Spencer Watt and defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh, who both suffered season-ending Achilles injuries during mini-camp.
Montreal created an off-season stir by signing free-agent defensive lineman Michael Sam, the CFL's first openly gay player. The 25-year-old former St. Louis Ram and Dallas Cowboy will get the chance to rush the passer in Canada. Jonathan Crompton returns as the starter after assuming the job last season and leading Montreal to the East final. Receiver Duron Carter (75 catches, 1,030 yards, seven TDs) is now an Indianapolis Colt but Lewis joins veteran S.J. Green.
After just two wins in its inaugural season, there's nowhere for Ottawa to go but up. GM Marcel Desjardins gave veteran starter Henry Burris more weapons, adding receiver/kick-returner Chris Williams and receivers Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson and Canadian Brad Sinopoli in free agency while also acquiring receiver Maurice Price from Calgary. The Redblacks finished last or near the bottom of most key offensive categories last year.
It's a waiting game as veteran quarterback Ricky Ray recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. The 35-year-old Californian is expected to make a full recovery but it's unclear if he'll be ready to start the season. Trevor Harris, who led Toronto past Ottawa in its regular-season finale with Ray concussed, assumes the starting job. Canadian linebacker Cory Greenwood begins his first full CFL campaign after signing with Toronto late last season following time in the NFL with Kansas City and Detroit.