Trial by fire

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:22 AM ET

Welcome to training camp 2005. It's a little early for two-a-day boot camps but that's what the rest of the CFL season has become for the Calgary Stampeders -- an audition for next year. With playoff aspirations all but mathematically over, it's time for Matt Dunigan and his staff to start evaluating whatever talent is hanging around camp.

The sooner the better and that means Friday night at McMahon Stadium when the B.C. Lions come visiting.

Sure, Dunigan and Co. want to eke out a couple of wins down the stretch to save some face and boost morale as the organization dearly needs to rally season ticket holders for next season. But a far more important goal is to grade the players currently in camp with quarterback and running back the two positions in most dire need of an upgrade.

Dunigan is understandably hesitant to throw quarterbacking pups Tommy Jones and Mike Souza to the wolves, almost certainly doomed to failure against the Lions. And with Wally's Boys still trying to secure home field advantage for the West final, they won't look at this one like another exhibition game.

But that's what it is for Dunigan and the 2-11 Stamps -- trial by fire for youngsters looking for work next season.

There's already enough emotional scar tissue on this floundering squad to keep Tony Soprano's psychiatrist busy through the winter but Dunigan needs to know whether Jones and Souza deserve to return next season.

Give them the last five games to either sink or swim. The outcome is now meaningless. What this club needs to find is a starting quarterback to replace Marcus Crandell, long before the real training camp opens next May.

"It's tough because right now, if I throw a young kid out there, everybody wants instant success and they want to see the tide turn and maybe there would have to be a lot of understanding from the fans," Dunigan suggested. "It's also important not to break a kid and the quarterback's state of mind and confidence level by going in too early and putting too much expectations on him.

"At this point, we really have everything to gain as to the evaluation process (by playing the youngsters). People should understand the procedure. It doesn't happen overnight and the guys understand that and we understand that."

Expectations heading into this season, from management at least, was the Stamps team that won just five games last season could be re-tooled over the winter and turned into a winner.

Obviously, that didn't happen. But if owner Michael Feterik is going to stick with president Ron Rooke and football boss Dunigan, it's time to start assessing talent for next year.

In addition to QBs, running back Joffrey Reynolds, in camp for only one week, needs to be given the opportunity to win the tailback job. Victor Ike has had his chance and shown what he can and can't do.

"Joffrey was brought in to push Victor and he's doing that," Dunigan said. "He should have better grasp of the offence and be in a better position to be productive out there and get a chance to do that. I told Victor that much and we'll have to look at that throughout the week."

Receiver Jimmy Robinson has also been in camp long enough to get his shot under live fire. Dunigan made a point of emphasizing he doesn't expect any of his players to quit in the final weeks of the season but added a potential warning mutineers will walk the plank long before next year.

"I don't think anybody's quitting back there and if they do, I'll be surprised," Dunigan insisted.

"If they do, it'll make our job that much easier to continue to build this football team but I don't think it's going to happen and I'll emphasize that. I don't think it's going to happen."

In the next five weeks, we'll surely find out.


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