CALGARY — It’s been a long time since the Calgary Stampeders were asked, ‘who is going to run the football?’
From Joffrey Reynolds to Jon Cornish to Jerome Messam, the Stampeders had a star running back at every training camp for the last decade.
But with Messam signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the off-season, there isn’t an heir apparent in 2018.
“There’s a job wide open there,” head coach Dave Dickenson said Wednesday. “There’s a starting job and that’s a great opportunity.
“It’s best to just open up the competition and just let the cream rise to the top.”
Calgary’s ground game has been an integral part of an offence ranked in the CFL’s top two for eight straight years, thanks in part to having a halfback capable of rushing the ball 1,000 yards or more each of those seasons.
Cornish and Messam were also both Canadian, which gave Dickenson ratio options.
“I’m confident we’re going to get it done,” Dickenson said. “We’ve brought in a lot of different body types, quickness, strength. The tough part is the Canadian game is foreign to a lot these guys. There’s a lot going on. A lot of moving parts.
“We will have a 1,000-yard rusher if a certain running back, whoever wins it, stays healthy. We are a running team. They’ll get touches and we’ve got some good athletes.”
Of the backs in camp, Terry Williams is the most experienced in the Canadian game. The 26-year-old from Morristown, N.J., impressed in his lone start last season in Week 15 against the Montreal Alouettes.
Williams was named the CFL’s player of the week after rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-11 win.
At five foot nine and 204 pounds, he doesn’t generate the power of the six-foot-three, 255-pound Messam, but Williams is fleet of foot.
“For me, it’s big shoes to fill. At the same time, I want to come up and prove myself,” Williams said. “I want to come and contribute, keep the legacy going with all the great backs that came before me.”
His competition is Don Jackson, Romar Morris, Rushel Shell and Regina’s Atlee Simon.
“We’ve got some good talent back there. It’s definitely different,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. “It might not be the household name everybody is used to.
“It might be by committee, it might be game-plan wise and what you want that game, power runner, speed runner.”
The Stampeders signed running back Dominique Williams, who spent part of last season in Calgary, the day training camp opened Sunday.
But he injured his knee Monday and Dickenson said a subsequent MRI was not promising.
There’s employment opportunity galore for running backs at Stampeder camp as returner Roy Finch, who was Messam’s backup last season, is absent from camp.
The CFL’s special teams player of the year in 2017 was arrested in Oklahoma in April for assaulting a police officer and drug possession. Finch put his football career on hold to deal with legal issues.
Calgary’s pre-season games June 1 at home against B.C. and June 8 on the road against Saskatchewan will go a long way in telling Dickenson who is his primary ball carrier or carriers will be.
“Running backs, a big tell who plays is who performs when the lights are on at game time,” the coach said.