CALGARY — Business as usual is head coach Dave Dickenson’s approach to Calgary Stampeders training camp.
But the business of football could throw a wrench into the reigning Grey Cup champion’s season preparations.
The CFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players expires Saturday, which is the day before players report to main camps.
While players on four of the nine teams have been instructed by their union not to report Sunday, players on teams in Alberta and Ontario won’t be in a legal strike position until May 23.
Assured of bodies to at least start camp, Dickenson preferred to talk personnel Tuesday instead of labour strife.
“I’m just feeling good about, let’s get them on the field and get working,” Calgary’s coach said. “Let the smarter guys than me figure the rest of that out.”
And Dickenson has a lot of figuring out to do on the field, with 11 of 24 starters in the Grey Cup game gone elsewhere.
“That’s almost 50 per cent,” he pointed out. “That’s a crazy stat.
“Do I love it? No, but I also think if I was another player or a young player, I’d want to make my name. I’d want to get out there and show people what I can do.”
Pressing needs at receiver and on the defensive line, gaping holes in the defensive backfield, a new defensive co-ordinator and new linebackers coach add up to more flux than the Stampeders usually experience in the off-season.
“There’s so much change this year and so much opportunity,” Dickenson observed. “Guys that have been waiting two or three years to be a starter, they’ll have that chance.”
Calgary retained the straw the stirs the drink on offence, however, in signing quarterback and two-time league most outstanding player Bo Levi Mitchell to a four-year deal worth a reported $2.8 million.
And Dickenson intends to work his star pivot lightly in training camp to ensure health and freshness for the June 15 season-opener against Ottawa.
“Like I did last year … he’s not going to practice some days,” Dickenson said. “Bo is going to be our guy. That’s the bottom line. He doesn’t need to show everybody how good he is at training camp.”
Who Mitchell will throw to is a training camp question.
DaVaris Daniels (Edmonton), Lemar Durant (B.C.), Chris Matthews (Winnipeg) and Marken Michel (Philadelphia) signed elsewhere.
Kamar Jorden injured his knee in last year’s Labour Day game and underwent season-ending surgery.
“I’m really not expecting anything out of him this year,” the coach said. “If he can, great, but I think we have to temper our expectations with that type of injury.”
Repetitive knee injuries had Eric Rogers contemplating retirement after the Grey Cup, but Dickenson hopes he’ll be back to lead the receivers.
“We do need Eric,” he said. “This is the most bodies we’ve ever brought in at receiver because we know jobs are available.”
Markeith Ambles, who scored four touchdowns in six games in 2018, Reggie Begelton and Canadians Juwan Brescacin and Richie Sindani will be the most experienced CFL receivers in camp.
Calgary also signed Griff Whalen, a veteran of 43 NFL games, on Tuesday.
Running backs Don Jackson and Terry Williams give Calgary’s ground and return game stability.
Dickenson didn’t expect Romar Morris, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in last year’s division final, to pass his physical.
Former defensive co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks left Calgary in the off-season to become head coach of the B.C. Lions. The Stampeders promoted Brent Monson, a veteran of nine years on Calgary’s staff, to fill the position.
Former Edmonton Eskimos star J.C. Sherritt replaces Monson at linebackers coach.
“Brent was ready,” Dickenson said. “I mean, behind the scenes, he was basically the meat and potatoes of that defensive group last year anyway.
“He’s the guy that crunches the numbers, tendencies. He’s very analytical. He breaks things down. I’ve been really happy with what I’ve seen.”
The departures of Micah Johnson (Saskatchewan), Ja’Gared Davis (Hamilton) and James Vaughters (Chicago) left vacancies on Calgary’s defensive line.
Mike Rose epitomizes Dickenson’s seize-the-day philosophy. He’s spent almost two seasons on Calgary’s practice roster.
The backfield offers all kinds of job opportunities at safety, cornerback, weakside and middle linebacker.
Wynton McManis and 33-year-old Canadian Cory Greenwood are training-camp frontrunners to fill the big shoes of departed defensive star Alex Singleton (Philadelphia) at middle linebacker.
But the Stampeders recruited an assortment of bodies to compete for employment at linebacker.
“We’re going to let those guys sort it out,” Dickenson said. “Cream rises to the top, no doubt about it.”