David Song, September 17, 2015 —
The Calgary Stampeders may be the defending Grey Cup champions, but that didn’t show in their early season play. The squad lost two of their first five games, including a 29–11 rout at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes in Week Two and a 29–26 overtime thriller to the Ottawa Redblacks in Week Five. Calgary barely managed to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a single point in Week Four.
Most of the Stamps’ difficulties are due to injury — three starting offensive linemen went down, as did star runningback Jon Cornish. Wide-receivers Joe West and Simon Charbonneau-Campeau, alongside defensive back Buddy Jackson, are also on the injured list.
But that’s all in the past. The Stamps now have eight victories and only two losses. Calgary sits atop the Canadian Football League standings and look every bit like champions. Their success is largely due to the gritty effort put forth by their injury-riddled offensive line.
Head coach John Hufnagel appeared unfazed by the losses of linemen Brander Craighead, Edwin Harrison and Dan Federkeil — the latter of whom recently returned to action in the Labour Day Classic. Hufnagel called on practice roster mainstay John Estes, former NFLer Garry Williams and fourth-round draft pick Brad Erdos to elevate their game. He even converted defensive tackle Quinn Smith into an emergency offensive lineman when needed.
Perseverance from the offensive linemen has been a huge contributing factor to the resurgence of quarterback Bo-Levi Mitchell. While he endured some early struggles, Mitchell currently has 14 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, alongside a 65.4 per cent completion rate. As of Week 10, Mitchell has won 22 of the first 26 games in his CFL career, tying Jackie Parker’s CFL record.
The Stamps’ offensive line also managed to sustain their running game when necessary, helping backup runningback — and former University of Calgary Dinos star — Matt Walter post a career-high 107 yards in Week Eight against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Walter, who has put up 220 rushing yards in four starts, has been a consistent and dependable force for his team. Third-string runningback Tory Harrison has contributed another 140 yards on the ground along with three receiving touchdowns, bolstering the Stamps’ emphasis on the passing game even with star runner Cornish out. Their efforts highlight the Stampeders’ greatest strengths — their depth and ability to face adversity.
No singular player has been the central key to the Stampeders’ success. West and Charbonneau-Campeau have been replaced by young receivers Lemar Durant and Greg Wilson. Joe Burnett has filled in admirably for Jackson in the secondary and, should Mitchell get hurt, veteran quarterback Drew Tate can step in to lead the team’s offense, just as he did last season.
The Stampeders have both the depth and star power to make another Grey Cup run this year. The club boasts a strong group of productive performers who are all rising to the challenge of defending the team’s 2014 title.
Rookie receiver Eric Rogers has 812 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Slotback Marquay McDaniel has 504 yards and two touchdowns. Pass-rusher Charleston Hughes (six sacks), linebacker Deron Mayo (40 tackles) and defensive back Keon Raymond (two interceptions for 148 yards, one touchdown) have all stepped up as well.
It seems that when Cornish and the rest of the offensive linemen come off the injured reserve, the Stamps will have all they need to take the crown once again.