June 20th, 2024

Calgary Stampeders seek return to former glory in 2024

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on June 3, 2024.

The Calgary Stampeders need improvement on both sides of the football to return to the CFL's upper echelon. Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, centre right, speaks to players during opening day of training camp in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, May 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – The Calgary Stampeders need improvement on both sides of the football to return to the CFL’s upper echelon.

A 2-5 start and losing five games by three points or less in 2023 contributed to a 6-12 record in Dave Dickenson’s first season holding down the dual roles of general manager and coach.

Calgary’s worst record in almost two decades was still enough to win the turtle derby for the third and final playoff spot in the West Division, but a team that regularly won a dozen games a season has work to do to get back into the league’s elite.

“I don’t think we’re that far off last year, yet we couldn’t seem to win the tight games. We didn’t make the plays when we needed to most,” Dickenson said.

Calgary opens the 2024 season at home Friday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Future Hall of Famer quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell returns to McMahon Stadium for the first time since 2022 when the Stampeders traded his rights to Hamilton.

CFL schedulers didn’t grace Calgary with a Tiger-Cats visit in 2023, although the oft-injured Mitchell started just six games for his new team last season.

The Stampeders turned the page on Mitchell for Jake Maier midway through 2022. Maier’s performance in his first full season as a starter was a mixed bag of a league-leading 363 completions, but also 15 interceptions.

Calgary ranked last in the league in touchdowns (36) and average offensive yards per game (335.5).

Inviting veteran pivot Matt Shiltz to training camp was an indicator the Stampeders won’t be as patient with the 27-year-old Maier in 2024, although Dickenson says Maier deserves more support from other positions.

“I do think it’s won in the trenches first and foremost, and then big plays that could be interception or big plays in the running and passing game,” Dickenson said. “Turnovers are caused by usually pressure on the quarterback.

“If the quarterback feels comfortable back there, doesn’t seem to make as many mistakes, so turnover battle to me is number one. We were OK. Wasn’t like we were poor.

“It’s about the trenches, O-line, D-line, making their quarterback uncomfortable, stopping the run game when you have to. We didn’t stop the run game in the fourth quarter, and then vice-versa, we’ve got to protect whoever’s quarterback and Jake.”

Running backs Dedrick Mills, with over 800 yards in 15 games in 2023, and Peyton Logan can compensate for the off-season loss of star Ka’Deem Carey to the Toronto Argonauts.

Reggie Begelton and Marken Michell are productive slotbacks and a healthy Jalen Philpot is ready to bolster that position after sitting out all of last season injury.

Calgary lacks depth and experience at wideout, however. Malik Henry, a 1,000-yard man in 2022, sustained a season-ending knee injury suffered in camp.

The Stampeders have the tools to defend the run and the pass. Forcing more turnovers is one of Dickenson’s key messages heading into 2024.

Sack specialist James Vaughters is back in the front four after an arm injury ended his 2023 season after just six games.

CFL tackles leader Micah Awe and Cam Judge are two premiere CFL linebackers. Tre Roberson and Demerio Houston, Calgary’s biggest off-season signing, minding the backfield corners will make opposing quarterbacks think twice about a deep ball.

Health and luck, which seemed in short supply in 2023, could go a long way in returning the Stampeders to their former glory.

“If we ever full group or close to it – because football’s imperfect, there’s going to be times where we guys are in and out – but if we can have a steady diet of kind of our core guys and build some continuity and play multiple games together in a row, and all those things that all the best teams mostly have, we’re going to be tough,” Maier said.

2023 record: 6-12, third in the West Division, lost 41-30 to B.C. Lions in division semifinal.

Did you know? The Stampeders have reached the CFL playoffs 18 straight seasons for the longest active streak and fourth all time.

Key additions: QB Matt Shiltz, DB Demerio Houston, OL Trevon Tate, LB Micah Teitz.

Key losses: RB Ka’Deem Carey (Toronto), DL Derek Wiggan (Montreal), DL Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund (Montreal), WR Luther Hakunavanhu (Hamilton), OL Ryan Sceviour (Saskatchewan)

Players to watch: QB Jake Maier, RB Derek Mills, DB Demerio Houston, LB Micah Awe.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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