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CFL.ca presents ‘Off-Season Depth Chart’, a series of articles reviewing every team’s depth chart going into training camp. Note that these are not official team-issued depth charts, but projections based on insight and analysis from around the league.
CALGARY — For John Hufnagel, it’s been an off-season like no other.
The Stampeders’ general manager has seen change before, but the last few months have provided new challenges that threaten the league’s most successful franchise over the better part of a decade.
Bo Levi Mitchell received a new four-year contract to become one of the CFL’s highest-paid players and will lead an offence that at least looks familiar, even with the departure of some key receivers.
On the defensive side of the ball, however, things will be different. In addition to a new defensive coordinator in Brett Monson, the Stamps’ defence is projected to feature at least seven new starters.
Success often comes at a cost, but the Stamps are facing unprecedented change as they look to defend their championship and appear in a fourth straight Grey Cup.
Let’s start with the offence:
It took until the day of free agency, but the Stamps were able to bring back the most important piece of the puzzle in Bo Levi Mitchell. With the Katy, Texas native behind centre, and Dave Dickenson leading the way on offence, the Stampeders should have little problem picking up where they left off last November.
Despite losing versatile guard/tackle Spencer Wilson to free agency, the Stamps are adjusting the ratio up front as Ucambre Williams moves to tackle. That means three Canadian starters on the offensive line, with 2018 first round draft pick Ryan Sceviour competing with Justin Lawrence at centre. Brad Erdos and Shane Bergman return as the starting guards with Derek Dennis at left tackle, anchoring an offensive line that allowed 27 sacks last season, the lowest in the CFL tied with Saskatchewan.
It remains to be seen how the Stampeders will utilize their extra ratio flexibility, but there’s a good chance they will continue to start two Canadians at receiver. After a breakout 2018, Richard Sindani could move to field side wideout to complement fellow national threat Juwan Brescacin — though 2019 draft pick Hergy Mayala (not listed) and Julan Lynch are also in the mix.
While the team lost Marken Michel (NFL) and DaVaris Daniels (EDM) to free agency, Eric Rogers and Kamar Jorden both signed extensions, though the latter may not be back until mid-season after suffering a devastating knee injury last Labour Day. Either way, the offence will lean heavily on Reggie Begelton and Markeith Ambles to build on their breakout seasons a year ago.
Electrifying young running back and return man Romar Morris may not play in 2019 after injuring his Achilles in the Western Final, but the Stampeder backfield is in good hand thanks to the tandem of Don Jackson and Terry Williams. Jackson could have a rushing title in his future after racking up 924 yards in 13 games while averaging 5.8 yards per carry as a 25-year-old rookie last season.
Even with their losses, the Stamps’ offence is should have no problem duplicating last year’s success. Now let’s break down the new-look defence:
The Stampeders’ defence will see changes across the board, but the most important one isn’t listed on any depth chart. DeVone Claybrooks, the architect of one of the CFL’s most dominant defences the last few years, is westbound after taking the head coaching job with the BC Lions, leaving Brett Monson in charge of a unit that has lost nearly two thirds of the starters that defeated Ottawa in the Grey Cup last November.
While breakout rookie Tre Roberson is back at corner alongside veteran halfback Brandon Smith, off-season addition Courtney Stephen is expected to fill the void at safety following the departures of Tunde Adeleke (free agency) and Adam Berger (retired). Free agents Emanuel Davis and Ciante Evans are both still out there and could be re-signed, but for now, 24-year-old DeShaun Amos appears primed to take on a full-time starting role.
The biggest question on defence might be who replaces Alex Singleton, a face of the team’s recent success and one of the league’s biggest ratio-breakers. It appears the Stampeders will try to keep the position Canadian, with veteran Cory Greenwood competing with up-and-comer Riley Jones, who’s earned a chance to start after his impressive special teams play. Similarly, ace special teamer and international Wynton McManis will try to lock down the starting WILL linebacker position in camp.
Up front, the Stamps have produced some of the CFL’s top pass rushers over the years, including most recently Charleston Hughes and Ja’Gared Davis. They’ve lost both of those premiere defenders over the last two years, but veteran Cordarro Law is a legitimate threat for double-digit sacks if he can stay healthy. On the other side, 23-year-old Folarin Orimolade is looking to win a starting job and become the next star pass rusher out of Calgary.
The biggest hole to fill on the Stamps’ defence, literally speaking, will be Micah Johnson. The star defensive tackle parlayed a career year into a big free agent deal with the rival Riders. Calgary’s depth of Canadian interior linemen is the envy of the CFL, but the Stamps need an American to fill the void — potentially Mike Rose.
The Calgary Stampeders are no strangers to adversity, having overcome an historic run of injuries last season en route to an impressive Grey Cup victory. As the rest of the West tries to catch up, 2019 will provide another challenging test for Hufnagel, Dickenson and the rest of the Stamp’ brain trust.