CALGARY — Calgary Stampeders head coach and general manager John Hufnagel is filling gaps on his training-camp roster after off-season retirements and the loss of players to free agency.
The Stampeders have signed Canadian offensive linemen John Bender of Cochrane and J’Michael Deane of Toronto.
“I believe they’ll come in and compete at the inside position at guard,” Hufnagel said Tuesday during a conference call.
“We’ll see how they do at the guard position and then start utilizing them at tackle.
“This will be done over a matter of days and not weeks and then we can hone in on what we feel is their best position to compete is for the rest of the camp.”
Hufnagel expects to have Americans playing tackle, unless one of the Canadians excels there.
When Ben Archibald, named the CFL’s top offensive lineman last season, signed as a free agent with the B.C. Lions, it created a gaping hole in Calgary’s line.
Also, veteran Rob Lazeo retired in February after 14 seasons in the league.
CFL rookie camps open June 1, followed by main camps June 5. Calgary opens the regular season July 1 at home against the Toronto Argonauts.
The Stampeders had the best regular-season record in 2010 at 13-5, but were upset by the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final.
“You’re always disappointed when you don’t win your last game of the season, especially last year when we did have the best record,” Hufnagel said. “We need to be better at the end of this year than we were at the end of last year.”
The signing of Bender and Deane means Calgary’s entire 2010 draft class is under contract with the club, along with kicker Rob Maver, defensive back Taurean Allen, linebacker Karl McCartney and offensive lineman Oamo Culbreath.
Hufnagel says the commitment of Bender and Dean to the team allowed him to trade his No. 14 pick in Sunday’s draft to Edmonton for defensive lineman Brian Bulcke, rather than draft an offensive lineman.
Cornerback is also a position requiring attention with the Stamps because all-stars Brandon Browner is under contract to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Dwight Anderson signed with Montreal in the off-season.
Hufnagel feels Johnnie Dixon, who spent much of last season on the practice roster, and Geoff Tisdale, signed as a free agent after three seasons with Hamilton, are possible replacements on the corners.
“If one of our young guys come in and compete at the corner position, then we’ll move Geoff inside at the boundary halfback position,” Hufnagel said. “There’s all kinds of options. I do feel we have excellent candidates to get the job done.
“I’m not concerned about our defence. I think when we line up July 1, we’ll have a find defence.”
Bender, six foot eight and 325 pounds, is a Cochrane High School product who spent the last four seasons playing at the University of Nevada. Bender was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference first team last year.
Deane, six foot five and 312 pounds, started all 13 games at right tackle in his senior year at Michigan State and was twice named the team’s offensive lineman of the week. He went to Newtonbrook Secondary School.
Meanwhile, the Stampeders released non-import linebacker Mike Cornell and import quarterback Daryll Clark.
Hufnagel says he’ll speak to Canadian running back Jesse Lumsden soon over his football future. Lumsden wasn’t able to finish last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He underwent surgery Nov. 15.
The Stampeder head coach said September is the earliest Lumsden is expected back on the football field.
Hufnagel was more tight-lipped on the future of defensive end Mike Labinjo. The Toronto native was traded in January to Montreal for future considerations, but the transaction was voided because Labinjo couldn’t pass his physical exam. Hufnagel would only say Labinjo was still on Calgary’s roster.