PREVIEW - STAMPS-LIONS, JUNE 26
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 - 9:54 AM
SETTING THE SCENE
The Calgary Stampeders will kick off the 2008 CFL regular season at home this Thursday against their division rivals, the B.C. Lions. Calgary finished 3rd in the CFL West Division in 2007 with a 7-10-1 record after back-to-back second-place finishes the two previous seasons. The season ended with a 26-24 loss in Regina in the West Semi-Final to the eventual Grey Cup Champion Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Calgary will have a new head coach this season as former Stampeders quarterback John Hufnagel takes the reigns as the team’s 24th head coach. Hufnagel, who is also the team’s new GM, has a long history with the Stampeders as a player (four seasons from 1976 to ’79) and as an offensive coordinator (seven seasons from 1990 to 1996) before moving on to the NFL where he spent eight seasons (1999 to 2006) as a coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the Colts, Patriots and Giants amongst others. Hufnagel was part of the great Stampeders teams of the 90’s and went to three Grey Cups, winning the Cup with Calgary in 1992. Hufnagel’s offences set CFL records for points scored (698) and touchdowns scored (82, both in 1994) and also produced three Hall of Fame players so far in QB Doug Flutie, SB Allen Pitts and OG Rocco Romano.
The Lions finished first in the West in 2007 for the fourth straight year, setting a club record for wins with a 14-3-1 mark, but suffered a similar fate to Calgary losing in the West Final to the Roughriders by a score of 26-17. The Leos are guided by head coach Wally Buono (Hufnagel was offensive coordinator for Calgary under Buono), who has duplicated his Calgary success story in B.C., winning 63 games over the last five seasons and posting a winning percentage of .700. B.C. has had the better of Calgary since Buono changed clubs in 2003 winning 11 of 14 games played between the two teams including a 5-2-1 record in Calgary.
In 2007 B.C. won the first game played in Calgary 32-27 in Week 5 and the two teams tied 45-45 in an overtime classic in Week 8 at McMahon Stadium. Calgary has not opened a season at home versus the Lions since 1967 when they beat B.C. 20-7 and are 2-2-1 in the 5 games they have played to begin a season in B.C., the most recent being a 39-34 win over the Lions in 1991 at B.C. Place Stadium. Calgary is opening the season at home for the fourth straight year and the 11th time in the last 12 seasons and are 5-5 over that period in season beginning home openers including two straight, a 24-14 win over Edmonton in 2006 and a 37-9 victory versus Hamilton in last year’s opener.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE ACTION
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM local time (10:00 EDT) on Thursday, June 26th at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. The game will be televised on TSN this week, as will all Stampeder games this season and all CFL games. TSN is the exclusive television broadcaster for the CFL for the first time ever and will broadcast all 72 regular season games in the league this year as well as the playoffs and the Grey Cup. The game can be heard on the radio at AM770 CHQR77 (am770chqr.com) and it will also be broadcast on the Internet on CFL broadband at www.cfl.ca. and on TSN broadband at www.tsn.ca
WHO’S SCORING ON OFFENCE
As this is the first game of the year, here’s a look at how the offence shapes up in terms of personnel for the 2008 CFL season. QB Henry Burris (#1) returns for his fourth year as the starting quarterback for the Stamps. Burris is coming off his fourth straight season of over 4,000 yards passing and led the CFL in TD passes with 34 and QB rating at 102.0. Former league MVP (with Calgary in 2000) Dave Dickenson (#15) returns to Calgary after five seasons in B.C. where he won a Grey Cup in 2006 to provide the Stamps with perhaps the best 1-2 combination in the league at quarterback. Second-year man Barrick Nealy (#17) will start the season in the No. 3 spot at QB while Ben Sankey (#7) begins the year on the one-game injury list after seeing action in four games for Calgary last year. Three-time West Division all-star and three-time 1,000-yard rusher Joffrey Reynolds (#21) will carry the load at running back again this year with Rob Cote (#26) back as his fullback for the second straight season. Calgary is deep at the running back position with returnees Ken Simonton (#24) and Jon Cornish (#9) as well as rookie Demetris Summers (#32) who showed enough in training camp to stick around on the one-game injured list. Calgary’s high-powered passing attack relies on one of the best receiving corps in the league and they return intact for the 2008 CFL season. Led by their super slots Nik Lewis (#82) and Jeremaine Copeland (#80), each a four-time thousand yard receiver, and complimented by Ken-Yon Rambo (#85), Brett Ralph (#11) and Ryan Thelwell (#3) as well as rookie Chris Jackson (#87). Calgary’s aerial attack was tops in the league in 2007 and looks to repeat that achievement in ’08. The offensive line is the area of most change with four rookies making the team and only two starters back in their familiar positions. Jeff Pilon (#64) — now the team’s longest-serving player entering his ninth season — and C Rob Lazeo (#68) are the anchors and will be joined by Godfrey Ellis (#61), free agents Fabio Filce (#69) and import Antonio Hall (#58) as well as rookies Dimitri Tsoumpas (#67 and the club’s first pick in this year’s draft), Tim O’Neill (#66), and import Ben Archibald (#65) with rookie Jesse Newman (#62) and Veteran Derek Armstrong (#60) starting the season on IR.
WHO’S HITTING ON DEFENCE
Calgary’s defence had its share of problems in 2007 and as such has undergone the most changes for this upcoming season. The Stamps have a new defensive coordinator in Chris Jones, who was in charge of Montreal’s defence from 2003 to 2007 and went to three Grey Cups during his time there. Jones’ defence returns to the traditional 4-3 alignment and emphasizes speed first and foremost as the Stamps expect big things out of this unit in ’08. Calgary will employ four Canadians up front this year; Mike Labinjo (#42) and Justin Phillips (#44) will platoon at the defensive end position while Miguel Robede (#95) and Randy Chevrier (#56) will play tackle. Returning imports Eddie Freeman (#97) and Marcus Parker (#94) are joined on the line by rookies Funtaine Hunter (#34), LaMarcus Rowell (#71), Juwan Simpson (#48) and free agent Howard Hodges (#93) while DT Pat MacDonald (#91) was placed on the team’s nine-game injury list. NFL veteran Saleem Rasheed (#43, San Francisco 2002-05) will play in the middle flanked by free-agent pickup JoJuan Armour (#2) and returnee Shannon James (#23) as the starting linebackers with Marc Calixte (#37) and Dwaine Carpenter (#29) rounding out the crew. Neil Ternovatsky (#47) and Matt Grootegoed (#6) are both back from 2007 and both start the year on the injured list. The Stamps have perhaps the best shutdown corner in the division in CB Brandon Browner (#27) to build their secondary around and they added free agent Dwight Anderson (#33) to the other side to give the team a pair of excellent cornerbacks. The rest of the defensive backs are all veterans and all played with the Stamps in 2007 with the exception of free agent addition Richard Karikari (#8) and rookie Brandon Smith (#28). Brandon Stewart (#25), Calvin Bannister (#19), Wes Lysack (#31), and Julian Battle (#4, who will start the year on the nine-game injured list) give the Stamps a solid defensive backfield to rely on while the front seven gels as a unit in the beginning of the season. DB Markus Howell (#88) played with the Stamps as a wide receiver in 2007 and has been moved to defensive back this year.
WHO’S SPECIAL ON THE TEAMS
Calgary should have no trouble on special teams this year with returnees Sandro DeAngelis (#12) handling the place kicker duties and Burke Dales (#16) taking care of the punting. Both have all-star credentials. DeAngelis was all-Canadian in 2005 and 2006, while Dales was all-West in 2006, so the Stamps’ kicking game should be rock solid. Craig Dickenson is back to coach the special teams for a fifth year and both of the Stampeders’ top special teams tacklers are back in Grootegoed (20 tackles) and Browner (16 tackles). Howell was second in the CFL in punt returns in 2007 (including a 96-yard return for a major) and should handle the bulk of Calgary’s returns again this year.
The Lions provide a stiff test for the Stamps right out of the gate as they are a veteran team with few changes from a roster that finished the year first overall in the CFL with 14 wins. The Stamps revamped offensive line may have the biggest challenge on the night as they hope to contain the CFL’s best defensive line consisting of Brent Johnson (#97), Cameron Wake (#91), Aaron Hunt (#90), and Tyrone Williams (#96). The four combined for 41 sacks in 2007 (Calgary had 46 as a team in ’07) with Wake leading the way with 16. This group boasted the last two CFL Rookies of the Year (Hunt and Wake), the last two CFL Defensive Players of the Year (Wake and Johnson), a top Canadian (Johnson has twice won the award), and 5 CFL All-star awards (Johnson twice, Williams twice and Wake once). Keeping this group from causing havoc to the Stamps’ passing game will likely be the key to the game Thursday night. As for the Lions’ offence, it contains both the CFL’s leading rusher and receiver from 2007. RB Joe Smith (#33) was the top rusher with 1,510 yards and 18 rushing TDs (both club records) while SB Geroy Simon (#81) overcame a slow start to finish atop the league’s receiving list with 72 catches for 1,308 yards, his fifth straight season of over 1,000 yards. B.C. SB Jason Clermont (#82) was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in ’07 as he finished 3rd in the CFL with 1,158 yards and 7 TDs and adds a second outstanding target for the Lions’ quarterback whether it be Jarious Jackson (#7) or Buck Pierce (#16) who gets the start.
The Stamps’ weakness in 2007 was defence and, as mentioned before, is the area of the team with the most changes. Of all the stats from 2007, Calgary’s defensive stats are the most irrelevant as they have few starters on defence in the same position that they started for the first game of the 2007 season. The team also changed defensive coordinators and brought in a new scheme, so the numbers from 2007 may not mean much this year. That being said it should be noted that Calgary finished last in the league in right of 25 defensive categories last season, including points (516), points per game (28.7), TDs (53), FGs (43), and rushing yards allowed (121.3 yards per game). The offence, however, was the best in the CFL and has undergone few changes, with the o-line accounting for all of the four changes to the starting personnel. Calgary was first in 11 of 35 offensive categories, amongst them first downs (406), total offence (402.1 yards per game), yards rushing (122.0 yards per game), and yards passing (302.6). All of those totals improved at home where the Stamps averaged 473 yards of total offence, 137 yards rushing and 351 yards passing per game. B.C.’s strong running game powered them to first in points scored (27.2 points per game), first downs rushing (139), and rushing TDs (25) as the Lions passing attack fell to sixth (246.9 yards per game) in the absence of starter Dickenson. B.C.’s defence finished first in sacks with 61(Calgary finished seventh in sacks allowed with 52) and second in interceptions with 24. The Lions defence was second in points allowed with 19.8 points per game, third in total offence allowed (340 yards per game), fourth in rushing yards allowed (106.9 per game) and fifth in passing yards allowed (260.8). Calgary’s league-best passing attack versus the Lions fifth-best pass defence should be the key match-up stat wise but will be tempered by the Lions’ pass rush totals versus Calgary’s sacks allowed numbers.
THIS WEEK IN THE CFL
The rest of Week 1 in the CFL features all-divisional contests and finds Montreal traveling to Hamilton to take on the Ti-Cats as the first half of the opening-night double header. Winnipeg hosts the Argos in a rematch of the 2007 East Final (won by Winnipeg) on TSN’s Friday Night Football while the Riders begin defence of their 2007 Grey Cup Championship at home against the Eskimos on Saturday night.
Another season has come to the CFL and it represents another season of change across the league in two of the most important components of a football team; head coach and quarterback. There are four new head coaches and four new starting QBs in the CFL, so expect to see a lot of different looks when the other seven clubs come to visit McMahon Stadium this year. B.C has yet to decide on their starting QB for this week’s game but either Jackson or Pierce represent a change from 2007’s starting QB Dickenson. Saskatchewan will turn to former Stampeders Grey Cup MVP Marcus Crandell as their starter as 2007’s league MVP Kerry Joseph has moved on to the Argos. Hamilton’s Casey Printers did play for the Tabbies in 2007 but was not the starter as the season began; he joined the team half way through the year replacing Jason Maas as the Ti-Cats top pivot. As far as head coaches go, Saskatchewan makes the list again as their coach Kent Austin left to coach in the States and will be replace by offensive coordinator Ken Miller. Calgary, as mentioned has a new coach in Hufnagel while in the East both Montreal and Toronto have new head coaches. Montreal replaced current GM Jim Popp with former NFL assistant Marc Trestman while long time Argos coach Pinball Clemons stepped down to be succeeded by defensive coordinator Rich Stubler.
-Preview by Mike Hardimanhttp://www.stampeders.com/news_blogs/news/?id=2455