It was a nice cushy story in last year’s Grey Cup. David slaying Goliath in the form of little Ottawa and it’s sub-500 weakling of a football team hanging on for dear life as underdogs to conquer the bad guy Stampeders. Up until November, Calgary looked like the greatest CFL team ever. But let’s get real. The Calgary Stampeders were the best team in Canada and still are.
Former Stampeders prospect and regular ‘Let’s Talk CFL podcast’ panelist Chris Luhtala still follows the team closely. He agrees the stability they continue to show is remarkable, “One of the biggest things that sticks out with the Calgary Stampeders is how little things change for the team from year to year and this off season was no exception starting with free agency.”
Cowtown Still Class of the CFL: Calgary Stampeders 2017 Season Preview
The Stamps did make some moves though. Luhtala points to the addition of defensive tackle and one-time super bowl champion Bryan Hall as significant. Hall comes over from the Argos to beef up the interior of the defensive line. The move came at a good time for a front-four unit dealing with a season-ending injury to sackmaster Cordarro Law. Meanwhile Ja’Gared Davis impressed enough to start 10 games last season. He takes over that spot on a Calgary defensive line not expected to miss a beat.
“The Defensive Line lost Frank Beltre (New York Jets), Zach Minter (Saskatchewan), and Brandon Boudreaux (unsigned). Beltre was the only starter.” Calgary is proving once again that Hufnagel and his entourage learned a few lessons about ‘next man up’ from the Wally Buono-Roy Shivers tandem. They headed the Stampeders juggernaut of the 90’s despite losing numerous star players to the NFL and free agency yearly.
“The losses that stick out are offensive lineman Derek Dennis and linebacker Glenn Love (both signed with Saskatchewan); and Frank Beltre. As usual the Stampeders have players in line to step and fill these players departures. Defensive end Charleston Hughes is on the other side again. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. If either of the starters go down at those end spots, the play might drop off as both backups are now unknowns.”
The Stamps have made a few changes to the configuration of their linebacking scheme but for the most part, expect the same unit which led the league in holding opponents down to barely cracking 20 points per game to do it again this year.
On the offensive side of the ball at quarterback, reigning league Most Outstanding Player award winner Bo-Levi Mitchell is motivated by the Stamps imperfect end to what was an otherwise near-perfect season. Canadian Andrew Buckley performed well enough in training camp to make newly signed free agent Mitchell Gale expendable. He won the backup quarterback job for himself. Apparently all is forgiven for Buckley not reaching the endzone on a costly and controversial play-call from that Grey Cup loss in Toronto.
Reliable Canadian Jerome Messam will start at running back again. Import–the league calls them international now– Roy Finch is expected to see more carries this year. He had light spot duty in 2016. The Cochrane kid, Rob Cote is back at fullback for his tenth season.
Slotback Marquay McDaniel will head a strong group of five starting receivers. They remain largely unchanged from their Grey Cup loss. Quarterback Mitchell will have plenty of familiarity with his targets. 2016 Outstanding Offensive Lineman award winner Derek Dennis is a big loss at guard. The horsemen are able to plug his spot with another import. Meanwhile Ucambre Williams will slide in at centre. This frees up the stamps to fill the rest of their solid offensive line with Canadians once again.
This team should remain the class of the west and the entire league once again. Expect their win total to drop from their 15 victories a year ago due to increased competition from the likes of BC and Winnipeg. Look for them to finish first with a record of around 13 and 5. History has indicated first place teams do struggle with the bye week before the Western Final so once the playoffs hit, all bets are off.
But if there is such a thing a certain Grey Cup contender in June, it would be the 2017 Calgary Stampeders.