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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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The Calgary Stampeders have a way of making everything look easy.

That includes things many CFL teams struggle with, such as hiring coaches, developing quarterbacks, making good draft picks and being able to fill holes when players move on. The result of all of that has been a dozen consecutive seasons of double-digit wins that includes seven first-place finishes, six Grey Cup appearances and three championships.

Over that span, the Stamps have averaged 12.6 wins per season, compiling an overall regular season record of 158-52-3. So only by virtue of the CFL being a nine-team league are Calgary’s accomplishments not directly comparable to the most successful teams in all of pro sports.

All of this has taken place under the leadership of John Hufnagel, the team’s president and general manager who returned to the CFL with Calgary in late 2007, following several stints coaching in the NFL. To say that hiring has worked out rather well is the greatest understatement in Canadian football.

Hufnagel, a former CFL quarterback, is the only person ever to have coached Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning in the NFL and his work identifying and developing quarterbacks in Calgary, along with head coach Dave Dickenson, has been second to none.

For example, in 2019 the Stamps entered the season with Nick Arbuckle, a player who’d completed just 17 passes in the CFL before starter Bo Levi Mitchell went down with an early-season injury. In seven starts, Arbuckle completed more than 73 per cent of his passes and threw more than twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions, all without the support of a strong running game.

In comparison to most seasons, 2019 was a bit of a letdown year for Calgary. They didn’t run away with the division, didn’t finish first and didn’t play in the Grey Cup game.

That said, they still won 12 games and hosted a playoff game, which they lost to the eventual Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Calgary also overcame a slew of injuries as they so often seem able to do. Identifying plug-and-play players is part of the formula for success in the CFL, and no one has done that better than Calgary.

The Stamps are such that we learn to never count them out, to understand simply they will create more stars to replace those that have departed. And that the road to supremacy in the CFL West still goes through Calgary.

What They've Been Up To Since We Last Saw Them

The year off will allow Bo Levi Mitchell to begin this season as healthy as he’s been in a long time, following years of nagging injuries and eventual shoulder surgery after the 2019 season.

The battle for who backs him up should be interesting, with a couple of former Toronto Argonauts in the mix, Dakota Prukop and Michael O’Connor, both of whom played sparingly in 2019.

As for targets, the Stamps have a group of receivers in-house who’ll they’ll be counting upon to play bigger roles after the departures of Eric Rogers, Reggie Begelton and Juwan Brescacin.

Kamar Jorden, who has played just one game since suffering an ACL injury during the Labour Day game of 2018, will provide some much-need experience among a group that includes Markeith Ambles, Hergy Mayala, Richard Sindani and Josh Huff.

With the retirements of Shane Bergman and Brad Erdos, the Stamps have a couple of holes to plug along the offensive line. But they also added a new centre in former Argo Sean McEwen, one of the league’s most durable and consistent centres. The Stamps need to improve a league-worst rushing attack from 2019. Former Chicago Bear Ka’Deem Carey, who rushed for 422 yards before missing the latter part of the 2019 season with an injury, could provide a boost in this regard.

Defensively, the Stamps should benefit from the return of linebacker Jameer Thurman, who was among their most impactful playmakers before leaving to test the NFL waters after the 2018 season.