EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos’ 4-0 start to the season has been a surprise to many CFL pundits but it shouldn’t come as a shock that Fred Stamps is leading way.
The veteran slotback had five catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns to lead Edmonton to a 24-10 win over the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday and continue the best start of his career.
Stamps is the CFL’s leading receiver with 22 catches for 477 yards and four touchdowns. He has also anchored Edmonton’s best start since 1986 heading into the club’s home game Friday night against the Toronto Argonauts.
“I’m not surprised,” Stamps said Tuesday. “That’s what you train during the off-season for, to be a good football player during the season. I’m not surprised at all.
“In 2009, it was really my first year playing in the slot. Each year, I get more comfortable with it.”
Stamps, 29, leads Geroy Simon of the B.C. Lions by 127 yards after his outing against the Stampeders, a performance that saw him beat Calgary defensive back Brandon Smith for TD catches of 55 and 65 yards, including a spectacular one-handed grab.
“He’s a guy who has great concentration and focus,” Edmonton rookie head coach Kavis Reed said. “The guys are playing the way they practise and Fred is no different. He is making those plays in practice. He’s not taking things for granted. He’s not going half-speed in practice.
“When you do things like that in practice, it translates into the games. He’s doing extra film study. He’s working out with the receivers afterward to maintain the integrity of his body. He’s doing all the right things and, when you do the right things, nine times out of 10 good things are going to happen for you. He’s reaping the benefits of that.”
Stamps’ production isn’t surprising. He had 80 catches for 1,223 yards last year despite missing four games with a dislocated shoulder and led the CFL in 2009 with 1,402 receiving yards.
“I’m definitely not surprised. I had to coach against this guy for a few years,” said Reed, who was defensive co-ordinator for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before being named Edmonton’s head coach in December.
“You know his capability and his talent. Seeing his work ethic now, is really even more impressive because I know he’s doing the right things. That makes him an elite player in this league.”
After managing just three catches for 34 yards against Saskatchewan to open the season, Stamps had seven receptions for 178 yards against Hamilton and had seven more catches for 104 yards against B.C. before lighting up the Stampeders.
“That’s the Fred I know,” said receiver Jason Barnes. “I’m used to him. I’ve been around. It’s my third year now. I’ve seen him play every day and every day he does something in practice that amazes me, so I’m not surprised how well he’s doing.”
When teams shape their defensive scheme to shut down Stamps, they still have Barnes and the rest of Edmonton’s receiving corps to contend with.
“At the beginning of the season they were doubling (coverage) him,” Barnes said. “More balls were coming for me and A.D. (Adarius Bowman).
“Now, that he’s caught fire again like we knew he would, I’m sure defences are going to adjust to that, which is just going to open up everybody else. It’s just pick your poison.”
Those prone to projections point out Stamps is on pace for 2,146 receiving yards, which would break former Calgary Stampeder Allen Pitts’s single-season record of 2,036 yards set in 1994. But with 14 games remaining, Stamps isn’t willing to look that far down the road.
“To be honest, I’m not thinking about it at all,” Stamps said. “I’m not really into the stats or anything like that.
“The past few years I’ve put up some pretty good numbers. That’s what you want to do personally, At the end of the day, I had a good season on a personal level with stats and everything, but I was still home watching the championship game.”
Stamps faces Toronto on Friday needing 24 yards to move past Marco Cyncar (4,165 yards) into 12th place in Edmonton career receiving.
“My main focus this year is to do whatever I can to help my team win,” said Stamps. “If the stats come along with it, that’s just a plus. I just want to win this year.
“The last few years we haven’t been winning at all. Everybody knows we have to stay hungry and we can’t be complacent. We can’t feel like we’ve done anything because we’ve only won four games.”