There was a first-day-of-training camp feel around the Calgary Stampeders this week.
When the team returned to practice, several of their core veterans joined the team on the field. The lineup looked very much like the team penciled in to start the season. However, as we all know a series of injuries and other developments derailed those plans.
In the backfield, reigning CFL Outstanding Player Jon Cornish was back for the first time since the season opener. His trusty backup , Matt Walter, was also taking hand offs.
Moving down the huddle, there was a man whose presence alone makes an impact, Nik Lewis.
And also catching passes for the first time since the opener, Maurice Price.
The smiles of relief to be working together were evident from anywhere on the field. It is still unclear if all those players will suit up for Calgary’s next date in Ottawa but encouraging nonetheless.
“Exactly as I expected it to be,” said Cornish to a throng of reporters following his first practice since his June 28th injury. ”It was nice to be back playing with the guys. I think that was the best part. Honestly, I didn’t think I would notice any issues and I didn’t”
As Cornish took his first reps in nearly two months, Walter also stepped on the field for the first time in a month.
“It was actually an awesome experience being back on the field and actually participating in the drills and the team period. Its nice being back here with the guys and it kind of puts me in touch with what I do and how much I love it.” Added the Calgary-born and raised Walter.
The injuries that sidelined Cornish and Walters also sidelined Lewis. With the need to play an international player at running back, another international had to sit and Lewis was the odd man out. He used the time off to more fully heal his broken ankle, an injury suffered almost a year ago in a game in Vancouver.
“I’m good. I just took the time to focus on me. I continued to strengthen my ankle,” noted Lewis. “I just do the things I need to do to be ready to play. And I really feel like this will be my official debut this year, because I feel so much better running, so much better and fluid.”
Also working out with the top unit is Price. The speedster Price has one of the more interesting stat lines in recent Canadian Football League history. He caught one pass in the season opener, for 102 yards – his only catch before he fell awkwardly, breaking his hand. His stat line reveals one catch, one TD, total yardage 102 and average per catch 102.0 yards.
The Ottawa game may also see the return of defensive lineman Demonte Bolden. He would take the place of Micah Johnson who suffered a knee injury in that game. Johnson is expected to miss an extended period of time with that injury.
The return of all these regulars will mean some additional roster juggling for other players. Despite racking up over 100 yards rushing as the feature back in Hamilton, there may not be a roster spot for veteran RB Hugh Charles. The return of two national running backs may make it impossible to keep Charles on the roster.
Regardless, juggling the roster to accommodate too many returning players is something the Stampeders will gladly deal with.
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.