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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

STAMPEDERS SEASON PREVIEW

CFL.ca
CALGARY - There will be a few clenched jaws among the Calgary Stampeders when the Ottawa Redblacks are introduced as the defending Grey Cup champions Friday at TD Place Stadium.

The Stampeders open their 2017 season against a Redblacks team Calgary was heavily favoured to beat in last year's Grey Cup game, but didn't.

A 15-2-1 season and numerous individual player awards made for a successful 2016, but short of dominant because of a 39-33 overtime loss to the underdog Redblacks in November's Grey Cup.

For the Stampeders and their fans, the CFL's traditional Grey Cup rematch to open the season is a painful reminder of a championship that got away.

"The only way I can answer it is I'm glad we're playing Ottawa Week 1,'' said fullback Rob Cote, the longest-serving Stampeder in his 11th season.

"Why is a good question. Because why not? If you're going to play somebody, if you're going to get this thing started, it hurts to say, but let's go take a shot at the champs.''

The Stampeders also get the Redblacks in Week 2 for their home-opener at McMahon Stadium, but last-year talk likely won't be as prevalent as it will be heading into Friday's game.

"I'm really excited about getting this game out of the way,'' Stampeder safety and co-captain Joshua Bell said. "because we can start working on becoming the 2017 Grey Cup champions.

"Because until we play this game, everybody will talk about the 2016 Grey Cup champions.''

Continuity has been a Calgary hallmark since John Hufnagel took over as head coach and general manager in 2008.

He groomed Dave Dickenson for several seasons to replace him at coach in 2016, when Dickenson won the CFL's coaching award.

The Stampeders have retained their entire coaching staff from last year, 23 starters from the Grey Cup game and eight of nine CFL all-stars.

Quarterback and CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell, rookie-of-the-year DaVaris Daniels at wide receiver and CFL top rusher Jerome Messam headline a deep, experienced offence.

But Calgary's front five must compensate for the loss of left tackle Derek Dennis, the CFL's top offensive lineman in 2016, to the Saskatchewan Roughriders via free agency.

CFL sack-leader Charleston Hughes, all-star cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Tommie Campell and defensive back Jamar Wall lead what should be a strong defence again.

Calgary also has an uncanny ability to unearth talent and plug it in when a starter gets injured.

Daniels is a prime example having started 2016 on the practice roster. The 24-year-old wideout became an impact player in the league when two players ahead of him on the depth chart were injured.

"We feel like the pieces of the puzzle are there, but we need to always tinker a little bit,'' Dickenson said.

"We weren't scared last year to put in Ciante Evans and Tommie Campbell at the corner position and I don't think anyone saw that coming. DaVaris came out of nowhere.

"There will be some more new faces, some new bodies that hopefully give us those wins that we're looking for.''

Mitchell, 27, is 43-7-1 in CFL starts and sits fifth all-time in Stampeder passing yards (14,649) after five seasons. He says he took some time before watching game tape of the Grey Cup.

"Not right away. Kind of let the healing process happen,'' the Texan said. "Film is film, so we had to watch it.

"Definitely something I'll carry with me for the rest of my career as far as a learning moment. It's good to have those.

"Every great player who has played in any league has always failed. I'm going to make sure I use that to my advantage to make sure it never happens again.''

Former Canadian university star Andrew Buckley of Calgary earned the backup job behind Mitchell with former NFL prospect Ricky Stanzi at third string.

(Canadian Press)

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