Horse needs grooming

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

It has been a promising start to the Calgary Stampeders' new era but there's plenty of work to be done.

While splitting pre-season games against Saskatchewan and B.C., the retooling club has begun showing signs of hope for Stampeders fans desperate to see their team return to the playoffs and respectability.

It also demonstrates hunting down free agents and assembling talent isn't enough in itself.

It takes time to develop and groom a new crew, as Wally Buono has done in two seasons in Vancouver. Thursday night, the Stampeders had front-row seats to witness the talented Lions act.

The defending West Division champions gave the Stampeders a glimpse of what it looks like from the top of the mountain and Calgary's new head coach came away impressed.

"They're a very good football team and they will expose you in every which way," Tom Higgins said yesterday, still digesting his club's 32-16 pre-season loss.

"When Dave Dickenson is on, he reminds me of Ron Lancaster, in that he can just dissect things.

"What I liked was that it was a little bit of a humbling experience because we are a good football team but maybe we aren't as good as a team that has gone to the Grey Cup. A lot of times, when players have played together like they have, they play at a different level than we're playing at but that's why we'll continue to practice and close that gap."

Although Stampeders starter Henry Burris and a new crew of receivers aren't ready to compete at the Lions' level, the offence's potential is there, insists Higgins.

"Absolutely, it's on the verge of being something to be reckoned with," Higgins said.

"There are a lot of weapons Henry has at his disposal, as well as his mobility that all of a sudden gives us a chance to be everything we want to be. Very competitive on offence and then we follow that with a defence that allows us to be very competitive in any game that we play."

Higgins has

54 players in camp. That number will be pared to 40 today, while as many as six players will move to the practice roster.

Paramount is holding onto each of the club's 10 Canadian offensive linemen, maybe putting seven on the active roster, the rest on the practice squad to allow offensive line coach Steve Buratto to continue developing the unit.

Assuming Taylor Robertson remains at right guard ahead of rookie David De La Parralle, remaining draft choices John Comiskey, Godfrey Ellis and Kyler Jukes could all wind up with the practice squad.

The Stampeders now have two full weeks to prepare for the season opener against the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argos July 1.

The layoff could be deemed a disruptive lull so early in the year for a club anxious to start playing for real. But Higgins said he and the rest of the staff are determined to make the most of the preparation time with a 40-man roster.

"What this does is it gives us something you don't normally have -- the opportunity to practice and put game plans together for two weeks," Higgins said.

"That said, it gives us a short turnaround for Winnipeg (in

Week 2), we play on the first and seventh. We can combine both the preparations when we start back on the practice field Tuesday.

"Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are going to be great days, almost feel like training camp, as we continue to refine and sharpen our defensive playbook, our offensive playoff and even our special-teams playbook."

Although two pre-season games hardly provides a definitive test for the two rookie kickers in camp, Sandra DeAngelis and Burke Dales, Higgins is comfortable with their progress.

"The last two outings bode well although they still haven't experienced any lulls yet that they're going to," he said.

Having fallen so far the last three seasons, there's plenty more work to be done. But results from two pre-season games indicate the Stampeders are making strides in the right direction.


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