2012 CFL Western Preview - Calgary StampedersJun 25, 2012 - 2:02 PM Calgary, AB (Sports Network) - With a late-season flurry in 2011, the Calgary Stampeders managed to win three straight games and match both Edmonton and British Columbia for the best record in the West Division, but their experience in the playoffs failed to live up to expectations as they were ushered out after just one game.
Grey Cup champions as recently as 2008, the Stamps gear up for another season for Great White North football under the direction of general manager and head coach John Hufnagel.
A year ago Hufnagel had his crew rip off six wins in the first eight outings, the two setbacks to Toronto and Edmonton coming by just a combined seven points. Perhaps the coach can turn those sort of tight contests into victories this time around.
It wasn't that long ago that Henry Burris was the top gunslinger in the CFL, but last year he finished fifth in the league with 3,687 yards and just 20 TDs, his fewest number of passing majors since 2003 when he barely saw any action with Saskatchewan. Burris is no longer with the club however, opening the door for either Kevin Glenn or Drew Tate to take control this season.
Glenn, acquired from Hamilton in a trade that sent Burris to the Tiger-Cats in early January, has plenty of experience and should be a valuable asset for Calgary moving forward, but a career quarterback rating of 88.5 isn't all that impressive in a league that is predicated on the pass almost exclusively.
Tate doesn't have as many miles on him from a CFL standpoint, but that's partly due to being a backup and having worked through injury last season which had him on the sidelines for the first five games of 2011.
The player who should be taking the majority of hits coming through the line of scrimmage is running back Jon Cornish who finished fifth in the league last season with a career-best 863 yards and nine touchdowns. Averaging better than seven yards per carry, the good news about Cornish is that he is someone who takes great care of the ball, fumbling it away just four times in 256 career carries.
A former rookie of the year and a CFL All-Star in both 2010 and 2011, receiver Nik Lewis has spent his entire career with Calgary and has registered no less than 1,000 receiving yards every season since 2004 when he broke into the league. A clutch possession receiver who may not make the flashy plays or always end up in the end zone, Lewis will help the Stamps transition to life after Burris.
The bigger question for the offense is how well receivers like Ken-Yon Rambo and Romby Bryant will respond. Rambo, who spent some time in the NFL early in his career, isn't getting any younger so he'll need to step up his efforts in order to remain a key part of the offense for the Stampeders moving forward. Bryant, someone who has never missed a CFL game due to injury, registered a modest 51 catches and five touchdowns a year ago. He will need to elevate his play to continue to get looks down the field.
Giving the squad a spark on defense in 2011 was Keon Raymond who tied for fourth in the league with five interceptions, bringing back two of those for scores. Unfortunately, Calgary's overall turnover margin was a minus-four, due mostly to having more lost fumbles (20) than any squad in the league.
Another ball hawk on defense should be defensive back Geoff Tisdale who had four picks of his own a year ago. However, the play of the secondary will hinge on how well the players in the trenches get after the opposing quarterback. That was a bit of a problem last year, with the team recording a league-low 27 sacks.
It may not seem like a huge issue, but losing punter Burke Dales to Edmonton might be a less-than-smooth transition considering he led the CFL with an average of 47.2 yards per kick, producing a career-best 40.1 net yards along the way. Rob Maver certainly has the ability to pick up the slack, but only time will tell how this move changes the kicking game for Calgary.
Moving in another direction on offense wont be easy and the Stampeders are bound to have their share of growing pains, but in a league like the CFL, the Stampeders' transition phase may be shorter than expected.
FACTS & FIGURES: Division - West. 2011 record - 11-7. Playoff result: Lost, 33-19, to Edmonton in the Grey Cup Playoffs Semifinals. Stadium - McMahon Stadium. Capacity - 35,650. Colors - Red, white and black.
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