The Calgary Stampeders knew there would be challenges and hurdles to overcome during the 2014 season.
Every team faces those obstacles, but they probably weren’t counting on losing two of their top offensive weapons after just one week of play.
The team will head to Toronto, without star running back Jon Cornish, and definitely without speedy receiver Maurice Price.
Cornish is fighting the effects of a concussion, suffered on a hit by Montreal’s Kyries Hebert, while Price is out six weeks after hand surgery. He attempted to break his fall during the Montreal game, but landed awkwardly and wound up breaking his hand.
The double whammy to the offence means coach John Hufnagel has to dive into the playbook for Plan B.
“The update is he (Cornish) hasn’t really made any progress,” said Hufnagel after a practice earlier this week.
“He’s still having a few headaches. Once his blood pressure goes up because of the cardio, he’s getting some headaches. It’s a day-to-day thing.”
However as any football fan knows, diagnosing concussions is a tricky art. After the Montreal game on June 28th, Cornish conducted numerous post-game interviews with various media outlets and seemed to be harbouring no effects of the hit.
Two weeks later it is a different story as Cornish is having trouble passing the first stages of the concussion protocol. At least with Price’s injury there are x-rays to monitor the healing of his broken bones.
With Cornish likely to sit for at least the Toronto game, the running back load will fall to Matt Walter and Jock Sanders. In a huge touch of irony, Walter's only other start came in Toronto last season when Cornish missed his only game of 2013.
Walter racked up 56 yards on 10 carries to help the Stampeders defeat Toronto 35-14. The team also has the option of going with Sanders. Sanders, a free agent signing from Saskatchewan in the off-season, could shoulder a good portion of the work load.
“Matt Walter has done everything we have asked of him,”noted Hufnagel.
”I am sure he's waiting for this opportunity. It’s not something we planned for, but we do have a way to go with it if Jon can’t play the game.”
Should the opportunity come for extended duty, Walter appears ready for the challenge. The third-year pro and hometown star had a strong training camp. His time to shine may be at hand.
The Stampeders also have a ready-made replacement for the dynamic Price.
Receiver Joe West has battled a quad injury for most of training camp and the pre-season. However, the bye week gave him a chance to heal fully and he seems ready to take over in Toronto.
West has displayed flashes of great productivity but has also had trouble staying healthy and on the field. West had a two-touchdown game and an eight-catch effort last year but only appeared in five games.
Now the Stampeders have to turn their attention to their trip to Toronto. After a bye week, the pace of the Stampeders' season picks up considerably.
After the Toronto game, they’re home to Saskatchewan, then travel to Edmonton—both on short weeks. Whether that itinerary allows the league reining Most Outstanding Player to return to action, remains to be seen.
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.