Stamps look like champs

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

Don't bet the mortgage or the kids' college fund but it might be worthwhile throwing down a few bucks on the Calgary Stampeders to win the 2006 Grey Cup.

They could finish last, too -- the CFL West will be that tightly contested.

But smart money expects the club to contend for the title.

Here's why.

It isn't a coincidence the Red and White performed just a minor facelift in the off-season. The club's 11-7 placing in 2005 might not be chin-droppingly impressive but the record was fuelled by a sensational stretch run, winning eight of the last nine games to finish second. While barely a .500 club early on, the second-half of the season they were the best team in the country, save for the playoffs, of course.

The Stamps, you'll remember, failed miserably in the West semifinal, turning over the ball five times in a loss to Edmonton.

Stage fright?

Perhaps.

The young squad, suddenly realizing it was on the verge of something great, fell on its face when the lights shone brightest. The drive for redemption makes one more reason to like their chances this time around.

That strong second-half showing should be a launch pad for 2006 after improving in a couple of key areas.

Last season, Stampeders quarterbacks coach Bill Diedrick, not surprisingly, was terrified at the thought of losing starting pivot Henry Burris for any length of time.

When Burris tore ligaments in his hand after Labour Day, rookie backups Jason Gesser and Danny Wimprine were too green to take over the offence, despite winning two of the three contests while Hank was on the mend.

That glaring shortcoming has seemingly been rectified with the addition of 17-year greybeard Danny McManus, secured to supply a crucial role as backup.

"Very seldom does a guy make it from Game 1 to the end of the season without getting nicked a bit for a game or two," Diedrick said, "and that's the insurance factor with Danny."

Adding to the optimism on offence is the addition of free-agent receivers Elijah Thurmon, Saskatchewan's leading pass catcher last season, along with former NFL deep threat Scotty Anderson.

If Thurmon fulfils his promise and Anderson is in shape, committed to a CFL career, both will make the passing game that much more dangerous.

Anderson's vertical threat, in particular, will help Burris take advantage of his strong arm and force opposing defences away from man-to-man coverage.

Another productive year is expected out of import running back Joffrey Reynolds, whose 1,437 yards rushing in '05 was the fifth-best season by a Stamps back.

Could Willie Burden's Schenley Award campaign of 1,896 yards in 1975, still a team record, be within reach?

Meanwhile, the addition of former NFLer David Allen will complement the ground game provided by Reynolds and Tony Stallings.

Allen is a serious deep threat on special teams, too.

The defence remains one of the best in the CFL, although the temporary loss of linebacker George White to a torn Achilles tendon leaves a hole that needs to be plugged.

So if you're in a gambling mood, put some money down on the Stamps.


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