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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 13, 2020
We’re going to keep this introduction short because there is a lot to unpack.
The Calgary Stampeders season ended on Sunday in the CFL’s West Division Semifinal.
Given what the team has done year after year over the past decade, that obviously feels like a disappointment. Conversely, the Stamps fielded a young team that was ravaged by injuries and still managed to finish second place in a cutthroat West Division and got to host a home playoff game.
They’ll be a year older and more experienced in 2020. If things fall their way this off-season there are reasons to believe the Stampeders could be really, really scary.
But there are questions — big ones — this off-season.
THE RUMOUR MILL
A month or two ago, there was a pervasive rumour coming out of Ottawa that said the Redblacks would target Stamps quarterbacks coach Ryan Dinwiddie and would also bring in Stamps backup Nick Arbuckle to be their new starting QB.
That makes a lot of sense, right?
There’s nobody more familiar with Arbuckle’s strengths and weaknesses than Dinwiddie, and it feels like Dinwiddie’s name has been in every conversation for new OC jobs over the past couple years.
With that said, it’s probably worth taking this rumour with a big, giant grain of salt.
The Redblacks and head coach Rick Campbell parted ways as soon as the season ended, and whoever takes over the reins from Campbell is obviously going to get a big say in deciding who his offensive coordinator will be.
Even if there was some truth behind the rumour back when it was first getting discussed, the situation has changed.
Ottawa, however, does seem like the most likely landing spot for Arbuckle.
He did more than enough to show that he’s worthy of a starting job during his seven-game stint as the Stamps’ No. 1 guy while Bo Levi Mitchell was out this summer. He also said Monday he would explore opportunities to become a starter in free agency.
The Redblacks need one. Arbuckle wants a job. The fit just makes sense.
CAN COZART BE BACKUP?
Assuming Arbuckle leaves — as he should — the Stampeders are going to need to decide if third-stringer Montell Cozart is ready to step in on short notice if Mitchell goes down.
The truth is, we’ve seen very little of Cozart in game-action, so nobody outside of Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson, president/GM John Hufnagel and the coaching staff are likely to have any real idea.
But the Stamps learned this season how important it is to have a quarterback who can come in and run the offence.
If Arbuckle hadn’t been ready to take snaps, the Stamps definitely wouldn’t have been hosting a playoff game. If he’d lost all seven games he started and had been unable to lead them to a dramatic Week 3 win over the B.C. Lions when Bo Levi Mitchell got hurt, the Stamps would have actually finished last, behind the Lions.
So is Cozart ready? They don’t need him to be pushing Mitchell for the starter’s job, but with the CFL’s new rule that teams can only carry two quarterbacks on their active roster for any given game, the Stamps need their backup to be competent.
There are a lot of veteran quarterbacks who look like they’ll be free agents this off-season, so the Stamps may have options to go in another direction if they don’t believe Cozart is the guy.
DO THEY HAVE BEST CANADIAN RECEIVER DEPTH IN CFL NEXT YEAR?
It sure looks like the Stampeders hit one out of the park when they drafted Hergy Mayala in the first round of the 2019 CFL Draft.
The Montreal native caught 38 passes for five touchdowns and 562 yards this season. That’s more receiving yards than highly-touted guys like Anthony Parker, Lemar Durant and Juwan Brescacin had in their rookie years.
Combine Mayala’s likely leap in this second year with the hopeful return of Brescacin to the lineup after missing most of 2019 with injury, and the Stamps should have two potentially game-changing Canadians playing receiver every week.
Then, you consider the growth this past season of Richard Sindani, and the surprise contributions of Colton Hunchak — who was released after training camp but re-called after Brescacin’s injury — and you can’t help but wonder if the Stamps can roll out a legitimately terrifying group of Canadian targets for Mitchell next year.
If Michael Klukas can take another step and start contributing more regularly, watch out.
Being able to find Canadian talent at skill positions is always one of the biggest challenges for any CFL team, but this is one area where the Stampeders shouldn’t have any worries next year.
On the American-side, we know Reggie Begelton intends on testing the NFL waters. The Stamps will be rooting for him but will make sure he knows he’s welcome back if it doesn’t work out. Eric Rogers and Kamar Jorden will both be back, and Josh Huff should have a much bigger role to play.
If the young guys — both Canadian and American — take a leap and both Jorden and Rogers can keep contributing, the Stamps should be dangerous through the air.
THREE CANADIANS ON THE O-LINE
Shane Bergman has another year on his contract and should be back for 2020. Ryan Sceviour has proved he can be a regular starter. Brad Erdos should be healthy, and Justin Lawrence has steadily improved and should be ready for full-time duties as the Stamps’ sixth man.
It’s not hard to put together a Stampeders offensive line for 2020 that includes three Canadian starters, and that would be a huge boost for the team’s ratio needs.
But what does it mean for the Americans if there are only two regular spots for them? Derek Dennis wants to play again — and was yet again an all-star — so unless salary cap considerations make him unaffordable, it would be crazy for the Stamps not to bring him back.
Nila Kasitati showed serious progress at right tackle, but that was a spot originally reserved for Ucambre Williams. Instead, Williams played centre after Erdos got hurt in pre-season, but the Stamps might prefer to move him to right tackle if they opt to go with Canadians at the two guard positions and at centre.
Already, you can see how this gets complicated. There was a lot of hype surrounding Leon Johnson, too, but after spending the entire season on the practice roster you have to wonder if there’s room for him and Kasitati. Make no mistake, the Stamps want to keep Williams.
Having options definitely isn’t a bad thing for any CFL team, but there are tough decisions ahead.
Look, the Stampeders averaged the least rushing yards of any team in the CFL this season, so something needs to change.
That doesn’t all fall on the running backs, obviously, but it’s a position the Stampeders need to figure out.
They went through four starting running backs in 2019. Don Jackson had a concussion that disrupted his season and was then kept out of the starting lineup following the emergence of Ka’Deem Carey, whose season ended early because of a broken arm.
Romar Morris started two games but tore his second Achilles tendon in as many seasons. That could be career-ending, unfortunately.
Ante Milanovic-Litre started late in the year and can certainly crash-and-bang his way through tacklers, but we’re not sure he’s the full-time solution. The team has seemed reluctant to roll with Terry Williams as their starter.
We know Jackson is going to explore free-agency and is unlikely to be back.
Carey would seem like a very strong option, but he’s got a spotty injury history dating back to his time with the Chicago Bears in the NFL.
This may be an area where the Stampeders need to dip their toes into the free-agency market, as unlikely as that seems given what we know about Hufnagel’s history in that area.
It just doesn’t seem like there’s an obvious in-house solution.
HOW DOES HOLLEY DECISION AFFECT GREENWOOD?
Nobody came out and said it, but just about every Stampeders player and coach who spoke at Monday’s end-of-season media availability seemed to hint at the idea that Nate Holley is going to generate NFL interest.
With the CFL’s new window for players to explore options in the NFL, it’s entirely possible that Holley’s time in Calgary will be over after just one year. Considering that he is the West Division’s Most Outstanding Rookie nominee, it would be incredibly disappointing if Canadian football fans didn’t get to see what he could do with a full-year playing linebacker.
That’s not really something the Stamps can control, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if Cory Greenwood takes December to consider if he wants to retire and then informs the Stamps he wants to return for another season.
Greenwood himself admitted Monday that the Stamps might want to go with Holley and Wynton McManis as their starting linebackers next year. His age — he’s 34 — and injury history would make it tough for the Stamps to count on Greenwood playing 18 games.
But if they don’t know about Holley’s future? The NFL window isn’t until January, supposedly, and the potential of losing Holley would make Greenwood a lot more valuable.
It’s dumb that this level of uncertainty can exist heading into an off-season, honestly, but here we are.
HOW DOES THE D-LINE SHAKE OUT?
Here is the Stampeders’ starting defensive line in the West Semifinal: Da’Sean Downey, Derek Wiggan, Mike Rose and Chris Casher.
Out of that group, you’d probably only have Wiggan pencilled-in as a week-in, week-out starter heading into the season.
But injuries wreaked absolute havoc.
Junior Turner, Folarin Orimolade, Ivan McLennan and Ese Mrabure combined to play in a grand total of five games this season before suffering season-ending injuries, while Cordarro Law got hurt in the Stamps’ second-last game of the regular season — and his absence was really felt against the Bombers
All could be healthy next season, but there are no guarantees. For some of them, playing football might just not be worth it anymore.
Turner is 31-years-old and has had multiple knee injuries. Law is the same age and played in 13 games between 2016 and 2018. The shoulder injury that ended his season is no joke.
Casher and Rose both took big steps forward this season and should be part of the plans, but it will be fascinating to see what the Stamps d-line looks like next year. The group exceeded expectations despite all the injuries and losing both Micah Johnson and Ja’Gared Davis to free-agency prior to this season.
They’re high on potential for 2020, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty here.
WHO REPLACES BRANDON SMITH?
For the first time since 2007, the Stampeders are going to show up at training camp next year and Brandon Smith’s smiling face will be nowhere to be found.
Beyond his unquestioned role as the elder statesman and leader in the Stampeders’ lockerroom, Smith’s quality on the field never dipped. The 35-year-old made a compelling case for an all-star nomination in 2019 and never once looked like he was struggling to keep up with receivers who were a decade younger than him.
So forget the question of how the Stamps will replace the intangibles Smith brings, it’s worth asking who will step into his shoes and play halfback?
When this question was asked of fellow veteran Jamar Wall, he suggested it would be Raheem Wilson. That makes sense. Wilson was mostly the Stamps’ field corner this year, but he was also the team’s utility man in the defensive secondary and did spend time at halfback.
There are other options, including guys like Lorenzo Jerome and Robertson Daniel. We got cameos from both guys in 2019 and they showed real flashes of potential.
Wilson, though, looks like the frontrunner.
WHAT’S UP WITH TRE ROBERSON?
This was a little bit of a surprise.
When we asked Roberson if he had another year on his contract — he does — the star defensive back was evasive with his answer.
“As of right now, I’m a Calgary Stampeder,” Roberson said.
He repeated the line several times when he was pressed to elaborate, and look, we’re not in the business of reading between the lines here but Roberson’s refusal to say that he’d be back next year was telling.
Roberson turned 27-years-old in late-October, so if he’s going to take a shot at playing in the NFL, he doesn’t have lots of time left. He had a tough game in the West Semifinal but was otherwise arguably the best boundary corner in the entire CFL this season.
The growth and development Roberson has shown in only two years is astonishing — he was a quarterback in college, not a DB — and the Stamps could really use him next year. Maybe Wilson could move to the boundary corner spot, but that would mean someone else has to take over for Smith, and that’s a lot of movement.
If Roberson were to leave, it would mark the third straight off-season in which the Stamps would lose an all-star calibre corner. They lost Tommie Campbell after the 2017 season and Ciante Evans last year.
Obviously, the NFL window means this situation isn’t entirely under the Stampeders’ control, but it’s going to be one of the most intriguing plotlines of the off-season, no matter what.
IS A GREY CUP REALISTIC NEXT YEAR?
Ultimately, all the questions we’ve already explored area really just building towards this: Can the Stamps return to a championship-level last year.
In my opinion, the answer is yes.
The Stamps fielded way more first-year starters this year than we’re used to seeing from them and the experience they gained in 2019 should be invaluable.
They still have Mitchell at quarterback, so that gives them a shot no matter what. The receiving corps is strong, the o-line should be a strength and with the exception of a few notable question marks, the defence should remain largely intact — look for guys like Royce Metchie and DaShaun Amos to have all-star seasons again.
The question of contending for the Grey Cup is likely going to come down to whether their young players can take another step forward in their development as a group.
But there won’t be any excuses next year. The Stamps get a bit of a pass from us this season because of all the off-season change and injuries, but unless the NFL window is absolutely brutal to the Stamps, they should be in contention for the Grey Cup next year.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019