CALGARY — A veteran of 10 seasons in the CFL, all with the Calgary Stampeders, Brandon Smith can't recall meeting so many new people on the opening day of training camp.
The defending champion Stampeders returned to the gridiron Sunday at McMahon Stadium missing 11 of 24 starters from last year's Grey Cup game.
"It's something that we have to adapt to," said Smith, who also won Grey Cups with the Stamps in 2008 and 2014. "I'm not quite used to seeing this many new faces on the defence. I mean, it's football. We have a good system here, a good coaching staff and a good scouting department that bring in quality players."
Explaining that he's not a "rah-rah" type of leader, Smith said he prefers to help younger players learn the playbook, learn the Canadian system and become students of the game.
"We've just got to get us all on the same page," he said. "That's what the vets' job is: to make sure everyone is buying in and doing the things that we need to do to gel and get better."
Calgary coach Dave Dickenson is happy to have Smith back as one of his leaders on defence, especially because of the departures of the likes of Micah Johnson (Saskatchewan), Ja'Gared Davis (Hamilton), James Vaughters (Chicago), Tunde Adeleke (Hamilton), Jameer Thurman (Chicago) and Alex Singleton (Philadelphia).
"He's our guy that's been around the longest," Dickenson said. "His leadership as much as anything is he doesn't miss any practices. He's a worker. You notice he's out there taking tons of reps again today.
"Our back end, we've changed a bit, but we do still have Smitty and (Jamar) Wall have been around a long time. I certainly feel good about those guys."
Along with 33-year-old Canadian Cory Greenwood, Wynton McManis is one of the frontrunners to earn an open spot at middle linebacker after the departure of Singleton.
"Competition doesn't scare me," McManis said. "It actually gives me chill bumps. It makes me excited. Without competition, you wouldn't really push yourself that hard, so it's good. I've always had to work for where I am and get to where I am. I'm all for it."
Third-year receiver Reggie Begelton said he's excited to see who will step up to earn roster spots following the off-season departures of DaVaris Daniels (Edmonton), Lemar Durant (B.C.), Chris Matthews (Winnipeg) and Marken Michel (Philadelphia).
"One thing about this team, it's always next-man up," said Begelton, who caught 25 passes for 488 yards and one touchdown before suffering a season-ending broken arm in late September. "You've just got to stay humble and work hard.
"I plan on coming out with a statement in showing that we didn't lose anything. This offence is still explosive. It's not going to be just me. It's going to be the entire receiving corps."
That's the kind of confidence that quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell likes to hear from his receivers.
"I thought guys looked good," said Mitchell, who won his second CFL most outstanding player award last year and was rewarded with a four-year deal worth a reported $2.8 million. "I'm excited to see how these guys compete against each other and keep pushing each other and who goes out and takes the spots."
Whether on defence, offence or on special teams, Dickenson said he and his coaching staff have instructed all of the players at training camp that several roster spots are up for grabs.
"What we're trying to basically say is go win the job and that's at multiple spots," said Dickenson, while noting he's not looking at anyone's birth certificates so early in the process. "Instead of trying to look at it as this is going to be Canadian, that one's going to be American, let's just go see who wins the job and if you do, you'll be playing."