Costly loss to defence

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

The two-a-day grind of training camp is tough but the aches and pains that accompany strenuous workouts can't compare with the twinge felt when a teammate is sent home.

The Calgary Stampeders defensive line was reeling from those pangs yesterday.

Without import defensive end and close friend Antwone Young, who returned to Los Angeles after his knee failed to pass the team physical, the unit is left with a gaping hole and an empty feeling.

It's an emotional blow to the tight group and a painful part of the business to which you never quite get accustomed, notes linemate Sheldon Napastuk.

"Oh man, it broke my heart," sighs the North Battleford, Sask., native who watched Young suffer a serious knee injury midway through last season after collecting four QB sacks in the first six games.

"I walked into the locker-room and there were some guys there and the first thing they said was, 'Where's Antwone?' I told them I saw him at medicals but apparently that knee just didn't respond to rehab that well and I guess they figured he wouldn't be ready, even near the end of this year.

"It's definitely a huge disappointment. He's a quality athlete and a quality guy and a big part of the success we had last season."

In addition to Young's loss, the defensive line has been rattled by plenty of changes the last year.

In addition to the trade to Winnipeg of 2003 defensive player of the year Joe Fleming late last season, veteran Garrett Smith was released before camp started.

A legion of free agents has been brought in to shore up the line, including the addition of end Rahim Abdullah and non-import Randy Chevrier, while Young's injury makes those signings even more crucial.

"Our whole front seven was pretty tight last year," says Napastuk, who arrived from Saskatchewan in 2003.

"You look in the locker-room last year and our whole line was sitting together with everybody and that's a whole lot of hours you spend together. It's really unfortunate when you look at it. We lost Garrett, we lost Joe, we lost Antwone and that was a pretty good corps of guys we had there."

Defensive line coach Casey Creehan, charged with reassembling the powerful unit this season, agrees Young's loss staggers the line.

"It's a major blow," Creehan admits. "Losing him eight games into the season last year and then we thought he was back 100 percent, he even came back for the end of last year. Then to find out that bad news on the first day of training camp is not only a major blow to us and our defensive plans but it's a major blow to the guys he works with."

Creehan notes the addition of import free agent end Rahim Abdullah will help, although he was expected to rotate with Young.

Now, one of a handful of talented rookies, including impressive Louisville product Michael Josiah, will fight to fill the spot.


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