- Free Agency
At this point, Pete Costanza can rattle off the names of his injured players the same way that a father does with his kids.
“They started compiling one after the other: KJ, DaVaris, Marken, Reggie,” Costanza said on Saturday, with the Calgary Stampeders’ final walkthrough of the season in the books.
The Stamps can add Markeith Ambles to that list, after the first-year Stampeder was stepped on during Friday’s practice and won’t be able to play in Sunday’s 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
Bakari Grant will fill in for Ambles and the storyline that the team wished would have ended before it started in September with Kamar Jorden’s season-ending injury stretches out as far as it possibly can this season.
Still, the Stamps are playing in their third consecutive Grey Cup, even if they’re at the point where the players that filled in for the earliest injuries are now out.
“I looked at (O-line coach) Pat DelMonaco and I said, ‘I’ll never joke around and tease you about when you had all the O-line injuries (in 2016) again’. It was tough, but all the credit goes to the guys. Truthfully, I just try to get them ready and they’re the ones that put in all the hard work.”
In his 11 years as the Stamps’ receivers coach, Costanza admits he hasn’t had a year like this one. From Jorden, the injuries snowballed. DaVaris Daniels broke his collarbone; Marken Michel broke something in his shoulder blade; Reggie Begelton broke his arm. Daniels is back on the roster this week, but Ambles is out and national receiver Juwan Brescacin had a light week due to a lingering groin injury.
“Our receiving corps, we just have to get to 2019 because it seems like if you’re a receiver you don’t want to be part of our group. You’re going to get hurt,” Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson said. “We’re getting better but I think Bres needed that extra time and luckily we could give it another week.”
“Every season brings its own challenges and this one definitely has had the most challenges for me as far as injuries to the group,” Costanza said.
“It’s been a challenge but the guys have handled it like pros, they really have. They’ve done a nice job sticking together, pulling together, helping each other out and communicating (to get) on the same page.”
John Hufnagel went and got some skilled replacements to deal with some of the season-ending injuries, inking Chris Matthews and former Stamp Bakari Grant. Costanza treated them like the rest of his group, offering up his time and input, whenever they felt they needed it.
“I just tell them, ‘If you need extra work, I’m there for the extra work. Whatever you’ve got to do I’m here,’” he said.
“I tell them, ‘I get paid by the Stamps. I work for you’. They ask me for the extra stuff, they ask for the notes and the work and that’s kind of how we go about our business, getting on the same page.”
Costanza admitted that the hardest part was the stuff he couldn’t control with the situation. The new (and new-ish) bodies on the field can have the playbook memorized and know every route they’re supposed to run. Drawing it up and executing it are two different things.
“That’s truthfully the hardest thing. That’s why you have training camp, to learn your plays, try to build chemistry with your quarterbacks,” he said.
“Quarterbacks know guys’ body language and how they’re breaking and what they’re running, so the chemistry was probably the hardest on Bo (Levi Mitchell), having so many new moving pieces in there.
“Bo did a great job. He handled it like a pro and kept working with them and telling them how he was seeing things. That was the biggest issue more so than knowing your route or your assignment, was building back that chemistry.”
In the first 11 games of the season, Mitchell had four games with over 300 yards passing and two over 400. In the final seven games of the season with receiver injuries piling up, he only cracked the 300-yard mark once. That was in Week 16 against Toronto (307 yards).
Mitchell started to show more chemistry with his receivers in the regular-season finale against BC and in a defensive battle of a Western Final against Winnipeg, found Eric Rogers for a trio of touchdowns, making the connections needed to push through in a tough game.
“I think you’ve seen over the last month as we’ve gotten better and better we’re starting to get that chemistry back and the guys are starting to play winning football,” Costanza said.
Whenever he gets to this stage, Costanza likes to take a minute on the field to take it all in. He gets to the stadium early and walks around the field. There’s a different smell in the air on Grey Cup Sunday, he says.
He won’t talk about the last two years. He brought that up after beating Winnipeg last week. He’s in the now and he wants his players there with him.
“I talked to them after we won the Western final and I said that it doesn’t matter what happened last year against Toronto. It doesn’t matter what happened against Ottawa (in 2016),” he said.
“We’re a different team, it’s a different year. There are different challenges in every football game. We’ve earned the right to come back here and compete for a championship against Ottawa. (We) just prep and it’s just another game, truthfully.
“It’s not anything bigger than that. It’s not a redemption game, it’s nothing more than playing a football game on Sunday for the right to hoist a trophy.”