August 14, 2014

Stephen: Running back roulette for Stamps

Another year, another injury-plagued position.

One season ago, the Calgary Stampeders had to plug in three different starting quarterbacks en route to being crowned the West Division champions with a 14-4 record.

This year, the team is gearing up to start their fourth feature back in only seven games. The latest ball-toter is well-travelled Canadian Football League veteran Hugh Charles. Charles has shuffled between Edmonton and Saskatchewan in his seven year career, but has never suited up for arch-rival Calgary.

That will change come Saturday afternoon in Hamilton.

Charles succeeds Martell Mallet who was injured in the Stampeders’ last game with Ottawa. Mallett, who was making his return to the league after a five-year absence, suffered a groin pull during the game with the REDBLACKS.

Mallett was filling in for Matt Walter, who suffered a head injury in week 5 against provincial rival Edmonton. And of course, the run of injuries started on Opening Day when 2013 league Most Outstanding Player Jon Cornish was felled by a hard hit; he has yet to play another game this season.

As an added attraction, in-game replacement Jock Sanders is also battling an injury and his availability for the Hamilton contest is in doubt.

Charles, for his part, is ready for the opportunity given to him by the Stampeders.

“I was brought in here for a reason,” noted Charles, “you have backups for a reason. I was brought in here to step in when need be and this is my time, my chance to shine. It’s good to know and prep, knowing you’re going to be the guy.”

The chance for Charles to suit up for Calgary also reunites him with his college teammate Edwin Harrison. Harrison is expected to take over at left tackle for the Stampeders as Stanley Bryant nurses a knee injury. Charles and Harrison were teammates at the University of Colorado.

However, the revolving running back door may soon be closing. Both Jon Cornish and Matt Walter have been partaking in individual drills under the watching eye of assistant coach Dmitri Tsoumpas. While the workouts are encouraging, there is no firm timetable for the return of either player to the line-up.

The constant shuffling of running backs has not crippled the Stampeders’ ground game. They are ranked no worse than the middle of the pack in most league rushing stats. The team’s commitment to the ground game has also remained intact. A season ago, the Stampeders averaged twenty three rushing attempts per game – not far from the twenty they have averaged thus far this year.

The trip to Hamilton kicks off an important stretch for the Stampeders where they will play the next three-of-four on the road, including the trip to Ron Joyce Stadium. After their back-to-back games in Ontario, the Stampeders’ post-Labour Day schedule features a heavy dose of Western opponents to conclude the regular season. The Stampeders know this is the time to build momentum heading into the second half of the year.

While the Stampeders prep for the Hamilton game, they have brought in another running back – new recruit Tory Harrison from Southern Mississippi University. Today, he may be an unknown recruit. Next week, with the way things are unfolding for the Stampeders…who knows?