Reality bites

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:32 PM ET

Every CFL team is yapping this time of year about improvements, upgrades and elevating itself into Grey Cup contenders.

For some, it's just a smoke screen.

For others, like the Calgary Stampeders, there is a legitimate track record from last season, while training camp workouts suggest a noticeable enhancement at key positions.

The Red and White's defensive line, secondary and the receiving corps should all be better than last year, when the team posted an 11-7 record and a berth in the CFL West semifinal.

Yet that theory was dealt a nasty slap in the face with Thursday night's 57-13 trashing at the hands of the B.C. Lions.

The lopsided loss was a shockingly inadequate night for the Horsemen. Especially from a team touting itself as an odds-on favourite to go all the way. The Lions debacle was a dose of reality.

"There's no excuses," head coach Tom Higgins said yesterday. "A very good football team played against the Calgary Stampeders and we weren't anywhere near where we need to be, want to be. I don't like the words 'wake-up call.' I have a dislike for those words but it slaps you with the reality you have to line up and you have to be on top of your game and, if you're not, things like that can happen.

"It is a reminder of how quickly things can fall off the tracks, which is what happened here. The only saving grace is it was a pre-season game and now we've got to be ready to go."

Quarterback Henry Burris was subpar, completing just 14 of 32 passes while also tossing up a pair of interceptions.

"You can't just shrug it off," Burris said. "There were some bad things that happened, as well as some good. We have to take this humbling experience and use it as a positive. I don't know if it's a situation of guys looking forward to Edmonton (in the season-opener) too much or what but we got our butts kicked and that's the bottom line."

The running game, with so much expected from Joffrey Reynolds, was ineffective while reliable receivers Nik Lewis and Jeremaine Copeland dropped catchable balls.

The defence allowed more than 400 net yards.

And it wasn't just Lions starter Dave Dickenson moving the ball up and down the field. Backups Buck Pierce and Jarious Jackson were also productive, despite seeing minimal playing time.

In the Stamps' defence, Denny Creehan's defence played a vanilla package that obviously didn't fool the Lions, choosing instead to save its befuddling schemes for when the real bullets start flying.

"We didn't show anything," Creehan explained. "We played training camp defences, didn't have a game plan, didn't show anything new, didn't show anything we did late last season."

The first real test comes Saturday when the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos come calling for Game 1 of the regular season.

It is a rematch of last fall's West semi and will provide a true measure of what the Stampeders have to offer this season.

Said offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto: "In retrospect, it was probably a real good lesson to learn. If you've got to learn it at any time, it's a hell of a lot better (in the pre-season) than it would be (in the season-opener)."


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