Five Things To Know: Calgary Stampeders
As the 2022 season approaches, CFL.ca is getting you up to speed on where each team stands after a hectic off-season that saw players crisscross the country. Five Things To Know will catch you up on where your team left off in 2021, the moves it made and what it might accomplish in 2022.
TORONTO — Before we get into the major off-season developments around the Calgary Stampeders, we should make something clear.
This is still the Calgary Stampeders we’re talking about.
The 2021 campaign was a down year by their standards, but shouldn’t let us get things twisted. The standard the Stamps have set is one that’s extraordinarily high. Last year’s club went 8-6, staying above .500 for the 13th consecutive season. They lost on a 34-yard field goal off the foot of Brett Lauther in Saskatchewan in double overtime in the Western Semi-Final. The Stamps shook off an uncharacteristic 1-4 start by winning seven of their final nine games, before meeting their fate on a chilly late November night in Regina.
About that slow start: Bo Levi Mitchell missed a significant portion of that stretch with a broken fibula that healed up in time for him to get back on the field for Labour Day. The amount of wins, the dominance and the stat-stuffing players may not have been as present for Calgary as they have been in their incredible run these last 14 years, but their season was still one that at least three rival teams around the league would have taken over theirs. As they ready to open up the CFL season on Thursday when they host the Montreal Alouettes, here are five things to know about a Stamps team that surely has its eyes on big things this season.
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A big year for Bo
It’s impossible at this point to think of the Stamps and not think of Bo Levi Mitchell. The 32-year-old has been the catalyst of the Stamps’ dominance since taking over starting duties in 2014, winning a pair of Grey Cups, Grey Cup MVPs and a pair of Most Outstanding Player awards along the way. When he’s healthy, he’s the top quarterback in the league.
His on-field health has been elusive these last two seasons for him, though. A shoulder injury nagged him through 2019 and then of course early last season, he ended up breaking his fibula, which cost him three games over a four-week stretch. While the Stamps’ rallied and turned their season around, Mitchell had a challenging run, throwing 13 interceptions to 10 touchdowns. It marked the first time in his career he’d turned the ball over more than scored it.
A healthy Mitchell at 32 could be staring down some elite passing years in the prime of his career. If he’s that guy this season, the Stamps will be a force in the West Division.
A quiet but purposeful off-season
John Hufnagel doesn’t often go out looking to make a big splash in free agency. The president and GM of the team has been vocal about that for years. Instead, he looked at his roster, identified a need and almost inconspicuously went about addressing it.
The Stamps swung a deal with the Argos in early February to add linebacker Cameron Judge, sending defensive back Royce Metchie east to Toronto. Hufnagel promptly signed the 2019 nominee for Outstanding Canadian to a one-year deal. Toronto didn’t work out for Judge, as he joined a star-studded roster and had 13 tackles in nine games. That was a far cry from the 61-tackle, five-sack, two-interception performance he had while playing for Saskatchewan in 2019. Pairing Judge with Jameer Thurman makes for an intriguing option and should be problematic for opposing offences this season.
What can Ka’Deem Carey do next?
In his second CFL season, Ka’Deem Carey essentially doubled up on his 2019 stats and established himself as one of the top running backs in the league. Carey finished 2021 with 164 carries and 869 yards with seven touchdowns. His rushing total was second-best in the league behind Montreal’s William Stanback. That he added 194 receiving yards showed some dual threat ability and gives him room to grow this season. With 18 games in front of him, the sky is the limit for the 29-year-old.
Something cooking with the receiving corps
The release of receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert was one of the most surprising training camp moves across the league, especially when you consider that it came after the team’s first pre-season game. It’s an indication that Hufnagel and head coach Dave Dickenson like what they’ve got brewing with the remainder of their receiving corps. We all know what Kamar Jorden and Reggie Begelton can do. If everyone involved stays healthy this season, either pass catcher could lead the league in receiving. While many figured Williams-Lambert would slide in behind them as the No. 3 option, the Stamps have some in-house options that could step into the role.
Malik Henry is one of them, as the 25-year-old had a pair of touchdowns as a rookie and handled some return duty as well in 2021. The other is Shawn Bane Jr., a 26-year-old that only got into four games last year and also took on some return work for Dickenson.
“From the get-go in camp, you noticed both Shawn and Malik, they made our team better,” Dickenson told Postmedia’s Daniel Austin.
On the National front, 2021 Draft pick Luther Hakunavanhu had some strong moments last season for the Stamps and will look to build on that in his second year in the league.
Count on being surprised
One of the Stamps’ greatest strengths over the last decade has been the organization’s ability to find talent. Year after year, we’ve watched American players find their way into the CFL via Calgary and establish themselves as legitimate stars. Mitchell and Jorden are the two biggest stars and best finds on their roster right now, but it feels like every season the Stamps bring someone in that becomes a household name by playoff time. Part of the fun of the early weeks of the CFL season is finding those players.