CALGARY — With players moving in and out of the lineup, the bye week was especially beneficial for the Calgary Stampeders.
The Stampeders have the luxury of more time to prepare for next Sunday’s Western Final than the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are coming off their Semi-Final win Sunday over the B.C. Lions.
So instead of preparing to win a game last week, the Stampeders got an early start on adjusting to life without injured receiver Marquay McDaniel and defensive tackles Demonte’ Bolden and Micah Johnson.
Receivers Joe West and Brad Sinopoli participated in their fourth practices Tuesday after returning from a shoulder injury and a concussion, respectively.
The Stampeders continued auditioning for replacements on the defensive line with Junior Turner, Etienne Legare, Freddie Bishop and six-foot-six behemoth Earl Okine getting reps Tuesday.
“Sometimes you don’t know how the bye week will help you, but it helped us in that sense,” Stampeder quarterback Kevin Glenn said.
“Getting guys acclimated with the positions they may play in this game was big. Having those practices and letting those guys work in those positions, it helped having that bye. If we would have had to possibly go right into playing a game, it might have been a little bit tougher.”
McDaniel posted the first 1,000-yard season of his career, only to have it end with a high ankle sprain in the regular-season finale versus the B.C. Lions. Both Johnson and Bolden suffered damaged knee ligaments in that game and will not play in the Western final.
Veteran slotback Nik Lewis has been sidelined since August with a broken leg. With McDaniel following him onto the injured list, getting West and Sinopoli up to speed again is crucial.
Import wide receiver Jeff Fuller signed with the Stampeders in September and played just the final three games of the regular season.
“It’s good that we had this extra time . . . to get a few more days on the practice field executing the offence,” head coach John Hufnagel said.
West had three touchdown catches in his first four games this season before his shoulder injury in Week 4. He returned to the lineup in September only to re-injure it in his second game back.
Sinopoli, a Canadian college quarterback converted into a receiver, missed the final two games of the season with a concussion. A one-handed catch on a 42-yard gain in his debut at receiver in July continues to be shown on highlight reels.
The Peterborough, Ont., native says the extra work in practice without the pounding of a game has helped his transition back onto the field.
“It helps and it helps just with the legs and feeling fresh,” Sinopoli said. “I feel like the season just started now. I don’t feel like I’ve been playing for 20 weeks or whatever it’s been. It’s huge.”
The bye week has to be managed properly for it to be an advantage and not a disadvantage, said running back Jon Cornish.
“People talk about the bye week being a week off, but as long as you don’t view it as that, it’s a beneficial thing,” the CFL’s leading rusher explained.
“The bye week is supposed to be a week of practice, a hard week of practice, working out and still doing all the things you should be doing to get ready for a game, and then just not playing the game. We had that mindset this year.
“A few years back, we sort of had this mindset that the bye week was some sort of week off and we shouldn’t be practising hard. You get your rest from not playing in the football game.”
McMahon Stadium temperatures for Calgary over the next few days are forecasted to stay above zero. Hufnagel hopes that is true because frigid temperatures makes for difficult practices.
“It’s hard to keep these men out there for an hour and 45 minutes and expect them to have full attention when it’s minus-20 degrees,” Hufnagel said.
Sunday’s forecast is for flurries and a high of minus-11. But the coach says he’s more concerned about high winds than a low temperature on game day.
“As far as how wind effects the game, it almost cuts the game in half,” he said. “When you have the wind, you have to make hay and when you don’t have the wind, hopefully you can hold on.”