CALGARY — With an almost identical coaching staff and the majority of players who won last year’s Grey Cup back in the fold, the Calgary Stampeders are understandably confident about the 2009 CFL season.
A rash of injuries coming out of training camp, however, has injected unease into the club heading into their season-opener Wednesday against Montreal (TSN, 8 p.m. ).
“I was pleased with our training camp, but there are some concerns that I had and I still have them,” head coach and GM John Hufnagel said.
On the offensive line, Jesse Newman (ankle) missed all of training camp and another starter Jeff Pilon (knee) also just recently started practising. Derek Armstrong (torn bicep) is out indefinitely.
Quarterback and Grey Cup MVP Henry Burris, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, doesn’t believe he’ll be on the run to start the season, however.
“We’re going to find guys to put there that can make it happen,” Burris declared. “We have depth and that’s the thing that’s made us successful.
“We have injuries all across the board right now, just like every team does coming out of camp and pre-season games. The teams that have guys that can step in and continue execution and do their part, those teams will be successful especially early on.”
Calgary is the host city of the 2009 Grey Cup on Nov. 29. The Stampeders aim to become the fifth team since 1960 to win back-to-back titles and the first since Toronto in 1996 and 1997.
The Stampders retained their entire coaching staff and added former quarterback Dave Dickenson to the group after his retirement. With 37 of 46 returnees from its Grey Cup roster, Burris feels the defending champions have come out of training camp further along than they were last year.
“Knowing our assignments and executing and being together as a family and having that chemistry is a big thing,” he said. “It is a long journey this year we have ahead of us, but you have a good feeling about where we are.”
When they are healthy, the Stamps will have all 12 starters on offence back from its Grey Cup roster.
Calgary had the No.2-ranked offence in the league last season behind Montreal.
Burris enters his third season under offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and he’s coming off a season of career highs in completions (381), passing yards (5,094) and touchdowns (39). He was second on the Stampeders in rushing yards with 595.
The six-foot-one, 220-pound pivot made 28 of 37 passes for 328 yards and a touchdown, plus ran for another 79 yards in a 22-14 win over Montreal in the Grey Cup.
Barrick Nealy continues his development as the No. 2 quarterback and former Saskatchewan Roughrider prospect Drew Tate beat out Arena League star Matt D’Orazio for No. 3.
Burris still has a plethora of options with the league-leading rusher Joffrey Reynolds and top receivers Ken-Yon Rambo, Nik Lewis and Jeremaine Copeland. Kicker Sandro DeAngelis led the West in points with 217 last year, but Burris would like less reliance on field goals for points.
“We scored a lot of points last year, but in some big games we had chances to put seven points on the board and we had to rely in Sandro, which isn’t a bad thing, but we want to make sure we’re putting sevens on the board instead of threes,” Burris explained. “People can go home and sleep a lot easier.”
Hufnagel is working new faces into a defence that went from worst to first in its first year under co-ordinator Chris Jones.
The Stamps dismissed veteran linebacker JoJuan Armour for what Hufnagel said was reckless behaviour during training camp. Armour’s replacement Lemarcus Rowell (knee) is out indefinitely, which means rookie Tray Blackmon will likely step into the middle.