CALGARY — The BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders are set to kick off the 2023 regular season in a rematch of last year’s Western Semi-Final on Thursday night at McMahon Stadium.
Both teams are coming off identical 12-6 campaigns but it was the Lions who came away with a 30-16 victory in that playoff showdown.
The season opener marks the beginning of the post-Nathan Rourke era in Vancouver as they’ll hand the reigns to quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. after the Most Outstanding Canadian inked a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the off-season.
Luckily for the Leos, Adams Jr. is no stranger to the offence after coming over in a trade from the Montreal Alouettes last August.
In eight games he completed 118 passes for 1,504 yards and six touchdowns. More importantly he only turned the ball over in the air once.
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If he isn’t throwing the football, look for Adams Jr. to use his legs after averaging 9.2 yards per carry a year ago.
When he lines up under centre, he’ll see a Stampeders defence that allowed the third most passing yards against with 270.8 a game.
Should Adams Jr. falter or head coach Rick Campbell want to give the Stamps a different look, they could turn to off-season signing and former Hamilton Tiger-Cats starter Dane Evans.
Campbell is looking forward to seeing what Adams Jr. can do full-time and with a complete off-season with the team under his belt.
“I think there’s a comfort level now he’s spent an off-season with our coaches and the playbook and knowing who our receivers are and what our football team is,” Campbell told BCLions.com.
“Going on the road in Calgary, it doesn’t get any tougher than that so I think we’re looking forward to seeing where we stand as a football team.”
Regardless of who’s in the pocket one thing’s for sure, they won’t be short on high-end receiving options as the Lions return one of the best wideout corps in the league.
Dominique Rhymes and Lucky Whitehead both cracked 1,000 receiving yards a year ago, with Rhymes finishing just behind Winnipeg Blue Bomber and Most Outstanding Rookie Dalton Schoen atop the leaderboard.
They will be without a key piece on Thursday night, however. Keon Hatcher didn’t participate in practice earlier in the week and Campbell confirmed he’s out against the Stamps, so more looks may go the way of Jevon Cottoy, an option the coaching staff should be fine with.
Mizzell will be tested right away against Dave Dickenson’s club as the Stamps were second best against the run last season, holding opponents to 89.1 yards per game.
The Lions aren’t short on playmakers on the defensive side of the ball either as they return the defensive back trio of T.J. Lee, Garry Peters and Marcus Sayles who combined for 12 interceptions, led by Peters’ five.
With Stamps quarterback Jake Maier coming of a season where he turned the ball over just seven times, the Lions secondary will look to apply tight pressure downfield.
It’s more of the same up front for the Lions as they return defensive lineman David Menard who recorded nine sacks in 2022. Applying pressure on Maier and forcing him into bad decisions will go a long way in helping their talented defensive backs make plays.
Speaking of Maier, he’s coming off a stellar season after taking over for long-time starting quarterback and now Hamilton Tiger-Cat Bo Levi Mitchell. He completed 207 passes for 2,389 yards with 14 touchdowns.
Against the Lions in that Western Semi-Final, Maier completed just 54.5 per cent of his passes and failed to find the end zone, something he’s looking to correct in the rematch to open the season.
Much like their opponent on Thursday, if the options aren’t there in the air, the Stamps will have no problem handing the ball to star running back Ka’Deem Carey.
And a star, he is.
Despite playing in just 14 games, Carey led the league with 1,088 yards. Facing a similarly tough Lions defensive front that held opposing runners to 94.1 yards on the ground per game, Carey will be put to the test to pick up where he left off.
While the Stamps may have struggled defensively at times in the air, the same can’t be said for their ability to stop the run game. Linebacker Cameron Judge, along with defensive linemen Julian Howsare and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund lead a talented front.
With the preseason in the rearview mirror and things set to begin for real, head coach Dave Dickenson is looking for his group to be accountable and ready to go.
“Every week you have to go out and do it, you have to represent and show what you got,” Dickenson told stampeders.com.
“This is our team and the best teams have ownership of the group. We have to represent and go get it done. We’ve made a living through the years working the line of scrimmage and trying to run the ball but BC has done a good job the last couple times we’ve played them clogging up the lanes. We have to make some plays in the pass game if we’re going to be successful.”
There’s nothing quite like a West Division showdown to lift the lid on the 2023 season and it all gets started Thursday night.
Kickoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on TSN, CFL+ (International) and CBS Sports in the U.S.
– With files from BCLions.com and Stampeders.com