June 13, 2014

Stephen: Pre-season will showcase more than QB battle

Calgary Stampeders

A quarterback controversy is one of the most exciting parts of training camp for fans, media, and followers of a football team. Passions can run high when two players are deemed to be the face of the offence.

Despite having two qualified quarterbacks in camp, the Calgary Stampeders have managed to avoid a quarterback debate, for now. Incumbents Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell will both see time this weekend when the Stampeders open their Pre-season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers where their performances could go a long way in determining the future of the quarterback battle.

Both quarterbacks have been given long looks in camp and have shone at times, with both quarterbacks seeing time on the first team offence.

Stamps General Manager and Head Coach John Hufnagel is a believer in letting game action decide the quarterback picture. He was with the Stampeders in 1994 as offensive coordinator when a young quarterback came to camp and was uninspiring throughout camp, in fact prior to the pre-season there was pressure in the organization to release the young QB prospect.

However, the organization decided to see what he could do in a game situation. Turns out Jeff Garcia was made for the bright lights and not the drills at camp.

The quarterbacks will take the majority of the focus but the Stamps will also be interested in the performance of the secondary. For much of Camp the Stampeders have utilized an all-import secondary, that means free agent signing Josh Bell has been seeing plenty of time at safety. The team says the secondary remains a work in progress but an all-import safety is a unique turn.

No matter what they do at safety, there are plenty of other openings in the secondary. Newcomer Ryan Steed is one of the players looking for a spot int he secondary and so far he is making an impression at the boundary corner position, held last year by Quincy Butler.

The team is also seeking to replace Chris Randle, who was traded to Winnipeg in the off-season with Stamps newcomer, Lin-J Shell taking the bulk of the workload on that position.

The changes do not stop there though as the Stamps will also be looking at a number of adjustments at defensive line. In truth, it is a return to the line they envisioned in 2013.

Defensive tackle Cory Mace has return to action and has been a stand out among the linemen. His impressive camp performance is just another step in his bizarre career path, In 2010 and 2012 he stayed healthy and had productive years. In 2011 and 2013 he suffered season ending injuries in the first game of the year. This is an even-numbered year and so the Stampeders are counting on big things from him.

They are also hoping to expand the role of fourth-year non-import lineman Junior Turner to fill a spot on a line that will likely have three imports on the defensive line and they may be returning to that in 2014.

Expansion and off-season retirements have also made for changes to the other side of the line. The team traded Jon Gott on draft night to Ottawa and filling in more than capably at that vacated left guard spot is rookie Brander Craighead. The University of Texas-El Paso product, via Ottawa, has put a lock on that position in the early going along with first overall pick Pierre Lavertu, who will play on a rotating basis this year.

Calgary product Spencer Wilson is also being given a great opportunity to secure the right guard spot, vacated by the retirement of Dmitri Tsoumpas.

There are, of course, other battles and there are bound to be some Surprises that will force the team into reconfiguring their depth chart.

These battles will take full focus for Calgary, with their first game on Saturday.