Stampeders saddled up

DAN TOTH, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 12:23 PM ET

The hard proof will be provided over an 18-game grind but Calgary Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins is already confident his 2006 squad is better than last year.

"I don't know if we get a lot of respect across Canada but that's OK," Higgins said yesterday after breaking training camp.

"The respect comes from within and we get the chance every year as a coaching staff to go along for this exciting ride. It all depends on their mindset and where the team wants to go.

"I truly believe we can be better than last year and last year we were a pretty good football team by the end of the season."

The 2005 Stamps finished 11-7, second in the CFL West, after winning seven of their last eight regular season contests.

They open the '06 season at home Saturday against the Edmonton Eskimos. Not only are the visiting Green and Gold wearing shiny, new Grey Cup rings, they knocked off Calgary in the West semifinal in the Stamps' backyard.

The Stamps coaching staff has settled on a 42-man roster, four-man reserve and seven-player developmental roster.

Higgins performed the final cuts yesterday, trimming a pair of imports in defensive end Terrence Royal and defensive back Andre Knights.

Import RB Tony Stallings and Canadian OL Kyler Jukes were released Friday.

"I'm excited to get this thing going because pre-season is so hard when you're trying to get everyone evaluated," said Higgins, whose club split a pair of pre-season games against B.C. "We're ready to go."

Higgins is convinced the '06 squad has improved in the secondary, quarterback and at receiver while overall Canadian talent is also upgraded.

"We think our depth at Canadian talent is a little bit better than last year," Higgins said.

"We now have a quarterback (Henry Burris) who understands the system and a backup (Danny McManus) who's been around and understands the CFL.

"Our receiving corps, which we already thought was pretty good with (Nik) Lewis, (Jeremaine) Copeland and (Ken-Yon) Rambo, then you add an Elijah Thurmon, who is a proven CFL player, and (former NFLer) Scotty Anderson and Canadian Markus Howell to go with Brett Ralph. Now we think our receivers are better than last year.

"Our offensive line is the same, with the exception of our starting centre (Godfrey Ellis) who has had some challenges but we think it has a chance to be as good or better than last year.

"At running back we're better than last year, even though we had David Allen here at the end of last year, he was here for just a very short time.

"Our kicking game (P Burke Dales and PK Sandro DeAngelis) now has a year under their belts.

"Our secondary is better than at any time last year when you bring in a Crance Clemons in you have Coby Rhinehart, who's been a rock, and Jermaine Chatman, who has been injured but should be back this week or next week.

"Adding J.R. Ruffin and with Trey Young back again, we're better than at any time last year."

Linebacking has one question mark because of an Achilles tendon injury to George White. He will likely be temporarily replaced by either Hakim Akbar or Cornelius Anthony.

Stampeders brass had also been fielding offers in recent days for veteran defensive lineman Demetrious Maxie, still one of the CFL's top ends.

As of yesterday afternoon, Higgins was still settling on his seven-man practice roster. It will likely consist of first-year players OL Riley Clayton, OL Derek Armstrong, R Beau Gibbs, R Anthony Bright, LB Khalid Abdullah, DL Miguel Robede and DL LaDrelle Bryant.


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