STAMPS IN SEARCH OF THEMSELVES IN HOME-OPENER VS. BOMBERS
For the Calgary Stampeders, Saturday night’s home-opener against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is about finding their identity.
A Canada Day double-header in the CFL finishes at McMahon Stadium on Saturday, where two Western rivals are coming off losses and looking to get back in the win column.
The Bombers are hoping things are different this year while the Stamps look to continue their dominance in the wake of a 14-4 season – yet in last weekend’s 20-18 loss to the BC Lions, the Stampeders didn’t look like the Stampeders.
“Come out and create an identity. Find out what it’s gonna be,” Bo Levi Mitchell told Stampeders.com.
“Right now it’s just finding out as an offence what we’re gonna rely on and what’s gonna be that explosiveness that we had. Create that identity in the game and really just let it happen.”
The Stampeders haven’t started a season 0-2 since 2009, while the last time they lost two regular season games in a row was the first three weeks of 2012. Mitchell, 28-7 in his career as a starter including 5-1 against Winnipeg, has never lost two in a row.
Yet despite leading 17-6 with one play left in the third quarter, Mitchell and the Stamps failed to do against the Lions in B.C. what they’ve done so well the last decade or so: close out games.
The Stampeders had chances to put the game away in the first half and didn’t, and in the end a 73-yard punt return touchdown by Lions return ace Chris Rainey ended up being the difference.
The Stamps scored just twice in five red zone opportunities, turning the ball over twice and also missing a key fourth-quarter field goal.
“When you have opportunities early, take advantage of them,” said rookie head coach Dave Dickenson, who dropped to 0-1 in his coaching career. “You’ve got to extend that lead.
“They were the ones making plays in the fourth quarter. We’re onto the next week, we know we’ve got a good challenge and we expect to come out here and win.”
Second-year receiver Lemar Durant will not play for the Stampeders after appearing to suffer an injury on a highlight-reel grab in the second half as he fell to his back. Meanwhile, the secondary will get some reinforcements as safety Josh Bell, the quarterback of DeVone Claybrooks’ defence, is back in his usual spot.
Cam Thorn will start at centre in place of rookie Roman Grozman as the Stamps wait for Pierre Lavertu to return from injury, but in the end it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the Stamps need to do better.
Their defence held Jonathon Jennings pretty well in check with 248 yards on 42 passing attempts and an average of 10.3 yards per completion. Special teams allowed the game-changing touchdown in the fourth but also blocked three punts in the first half.
Some wondered why Jerome Messam had only seven carries (he rushed for 16 and a touchdown), while instead of Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller catching all the passes like in the past, this time it was Durant and Kamar Jorden carrying the offence.
“We know the reason we haven’t dropped two in a row for a long time is we remind ourselves early on in the week to really lock in,” said Mitchell. “We always come back with a different kind of attitude after we’ve lost a game.”Against a new-look Bombers team with some added flare to its lineup, for the Stampeders Saturday night is about finishing. Above all, they need to do the things they’ve done in the past to avoid losing two in a row.
Both the Bombers and the Stamps have a different feel about them this year following an off-season of change, but the Blue and Gold can expect more of the same from the Stampeders coming off a loss.
They know things didn’t go right in game one and they know it’s only the beginning of a long season. Yet this week there’s the feel of some urgency for the Bombers, a team focused on changing the culture in 2016.
Whether it was Drew Willy or Andrew Harris, no one wearing royal blue is afraid to take responsibility for what happened in a 22-14 loss to the Alouettes in Week 1.
“I put it all on me and I hope Drew puts it all on him,” said Offensive Coordinator Paul LaPolice in an interview with BlueBombers.com. “And I hope Darvin Adams puts it all on him.
“And Andrew Harris . . .” he continued. “We talk about how we’re all responsible for everybody. Mike (O’Shea) does a tremendous job of making sure we are one team, but we all have to look internally about what we can do better.”
The Bombers got behind the eight ball early while an hour-long delay due to lightning in the area sucked some of the wind out of the team and the opening-day crowd. But in the end it was the inability to sustain drives early that allowed Kevin Glenn and the Alouettes to play keep-away, holding Winnipeg to a league-low 26:41 of possession including just 10:23 in the first half.
Losing Weston Dressler to injury in the first quarter didn’t help, but by the time the Bombers showed some life with a highlight-reel Darvin Adams touchdown in the fourth quarter it was too little too late.
They’ll be without Dressler again this week, who has been on the field for the last couple of days and appears close but could not be cleared for action.
Thomas Mayo, who had stints with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and New York Jets and bounced around the indoor game, will start in Dressler’s place.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Mayo brings size and athleticism to the Bombers’ receiving corps, something LaPolice and O’Shea were looking for to complement their smaller and speedy receivers from the outset of camp.
“Besides the frosted tips (in his hair)?” said LaPolice with a chuckle. “He’s such a good kid and he gets better every week. He’s fast for a big guy. He’s not afraid to go hit somebody.
“Coach O’Shea talked about it in a meeting one time,” LaPolice recalled. “We had Mayo on a screen pass to Andrew Harris for a touchdown in the pre-season. Mayo came across the field and lit up a player – just destroyed the guy. Mike says, ‘Do you know who that guy is?’ And Thomas is like, ‘I don’t know’. And it was Kyries Hebert, one of the best players in the league and Thomas goes, ‘OK, whatever’.”
Darvin Adams moves into Dressler’s old spot while Mayo bumps inside, but the Mayo-for-Dressler switch is just another change to an offensive unit trying to build some chemistry with new receivers in Ryan Smith and Jace Davis, a new left guard in Jermarcus Hardrick along with a new tailback in Harris.
Dressler took just eight snaps before his exit against Montreal (catching three passes), causing a ripple effect through the receiving corps. The silver lining this week is that Mayo has been in the attack since the first day of practice.
Harris got stronger as the game progressed in his long-awaited Bomber debut, finishing with 13 carries for 80 yards (6.2 per carry) with another 40 through the air. Adams had a game-high 105 yards on five catches including his 63-yard touchdown.
The defence was solid considering the amount of time it spent on the field, so on Saturday for the Bombers it’s about picking up a few missing pieces.
“Just overall consistency on offence,” said Willy. “Get off to a faster start, put points on the board in the first quarter. Just really go out and make sure we don’t have any mental mistakes there.”
“Clean up the mistakes,” added O’Shea. “I thought there were too many mistakes.”