Grace but no mercy

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

Standing in the Calgary Stampeders locker-room a little more than three months from training camp, John Grace delivered a stern warning to CFL's offences.

Although the all-star linebacker's stern game face was replaced by a wide smile due to his new two-year-plus-an-option contract, Grace still sounded as devilish as Mr. Burns releasing the hounds.

"We will be able to do things this year we couldn't do last year because we were all still learning," Grace said of Denny Creehan's dynamite defence at a news conference announcing his signing.

"We can get more turnovers, sack more quarterbacks. There's a lot of plays we left out on that field."

While the Stamps clearly made Grace the focus yesterday, head coach Tom Higgins also announced the completion of his coaching staff for 2005.

As Higgins looked down the table at new quarterbacks/running backs coach Bill Diedrick and secondary coach Tim Burke, he was staring at 58 years of football experience.

Diedrick spent two years as offensive co-ordinator with Edmonton in 1991-92 but comes to the Stamps after being relieved of his duties at Notre Dame, where he was offensive co-ordinator for two years.

Because he was still under contract for another year when he was fired, Diedrick won't be paid by Calgary this season and will work on a 'volunteer' basis.

Diedrick's list of proteges is impressive but his most high-profile student is unquestionably Drew Bledsoe, whom he trained at Washington State.

Diedrick has yet to see Stamps starter Khari Jones in action but believes he can mould anyone with talent.

"The key is he has to be a leader," Diedrick said. "Even the most talented guys still need a team around them to get to the Grey Cup.

"He has to utilize his strengths with his supporting cast and you have to get them to play consistent within his game."

Burke, who has spent most of his 25-year career in the secondary, was with Indiana State University as defensive co-ordinator and defensive backs coach in 2004.

He's excited to get an extra body to work with in the CFL but will also have adjust to the larger field.

"Everything works against the defensive backs in this league," Burke said. "It's a bigger field, everyone comes in motion. It's so much different from NCAA or NFL. Only one guy can be in motion, so that opens it up for speed.

"But I always thought if I had 12 guys, I could defend anybody, assuming the other team only had 11."

With the experience added yesterday, Higgins said the hirings should make the Stamps an attractive option for prospective talent.

"It gives us instant credibility with players," Higgins said.

The Stamps still have a few of their own free agents to lock up -- such as Wane McGarity, Albert Connell and Omar Evans -- before the market opens Feb. 16. So Higgins expects to be busy in the next few weeks.

"It's not going to be crazy but I would like to bring in some players to help our football team," Higgins said. "I don't think we're talking about five (players) but one or two would be delightful."

So what can we expect from the Stamps this season? Grace said the sky's the limit as far as the defence is concerned.

"It all depends on what coach Creehan has cooked up for us," Grace said. "It will be something special. We'll be able to do things people haven't seen before.

"We'll be just as good coming out of the gate as we were at the end of last season."


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