Retirements reshape Stamps

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:50 PM ET

Even the most casual of local football fans have to admit they’ve noticed the gluttony of retirement announcements leaking from McMahon Stadium of late.

If the departure of veteran o-line pillars like Jeff Pilon or John Comiskey didn’t phase anyone, perhaps the deletions of receiver Brett Ralph, returner Markus Howell or import defensive lineman Jim Davis raised a few eyebrows.

Add those to Jeremaine Copeland’s trade to Toronto and guard Dimitri Tsoumpas’ venture to Miami and many Stamps observers are justified in wondering if the team set to start camp Sunday is shaping up to be radically different than the one we saw in last fall’s West final.

Fact is, when the team opens the season July 1 against Saskatchewan, fans will notice more changes to the edifices housing the club and its locker room than they will the team itself.

The extensive renovations in and around McMahon Stadium this winter far outweigh the personnel moves shaping a squad two years removed from a Grey Cup title.

“It’s been an interesting last 30 days — I’ll admit that,” laughed head coach John Hufnagel of the recent retirements, several of which came as surprises.

“If you look at the overall operation there are a lot more changes this year, especially if you include some of the new coaches and front office people. However, as for the players, if you go down the list and counted out the number of player changes on every team in the league we’d probably have the fewest, except maybe Montreal.”

In other words it’s business as usual as the true core of the team is still intact.

The guys who dominate the headlines, sell the jerseys, put up the points and determine the outcome of most games are still here in the form of quarterback Henry Burris, running back Joffrey Reynolds and receivers Nik Lewis and Ken-Yon Rambo.

“Again, the leader of this football team is our quarterback,” said Hufnagel, a former Stamps pivot himself.

“He has to make sure he is doing his job not only on the field but off the field and I’m pretty comfortable with Henry handling those chores.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Mike Labinjo’s battle of the bulge will prove to be the topic du jour as the Grey Cup-wrecking-ball-turned “healthy” scratch has lost enough weight to be placed back on the depth chart for defensive end. “Corner”stones Dwight Anderson and Brandon Browner aside, even the most ardent of supporters will have a hard time identifying what has once again become a revolving door of anonymous defensive talents.

Oh sure, with another import to be added to an offensive line already anchored by American left tackle Ben Archibald there will be plenty of questions concerning how the team deals with its import ratio.

How they’ll deal with Rambo and receiver Ryan Thelwell as they return from injuries, says Hufnagel, will be with patience.

A much bigger question will revolve around which of the two young kickers — Warren Kean or Rob Maver — takes over placekicking duties formerly held by Sandro DeAngelis who happens to be the CFL’s most accurate kicker of all time.

Just how minor some of the other question marks are this spring were summed up when someone asked who would fill Ralph’s shoes as holder for field goals and extra points. Correct answer: Who cares.

Choosing to refer to his “new” additions as “fresh” adds, Hufnagel was asked if his club indeed needed fresh new faces.

“No,” laughed Hufnagel, still apparently stinging from last year’s West final loss to Saskatchewan. “We needed two more wins.”

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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