After Saturday's night's huge win over previously unbeaten Montreal, the Calgary Stampeders finish the first half of their 2006 season at 5-4. Is there room for improvement? Definitely. Sun football writers Dan Toth and Ian Busby bring out their red pens and assess mid-term grades to the Red and White's offensive, defensive and special teams units.
The pre-season buzz suggesting this group is among the CFL's best appears to be overblown.
Each of the big names -- Jeremaine Copeland, Nik Lewis and Elijah Thurmon and Ken-Yon Rambo -- has taken turns dropping easy catches at key points.
There also hasn't been much production from the depth receivers on the roster.
Outside of two games, the first matchup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the home game against the Montreal Alouettes, the receiving corps hasn't been much of a threat to score.
At other points, no one gets open and causes coverage sacks on quarterback Henry Burris.
They deserve plenty of credit for running back Joffrey Reynolds' success but breakdowns close to the goal-line have cost the team at key moments. The group is third in the league for sacks allowed, suggesting the pass protection has been quite solid. They've adapted well to stunt blitzes and have rarely put quarterback Henry Burris in a vulnerable position. The main problem seems to be penalties, as holding and procedure calls have cost the Stamps points on the scoreboard. The bright spot is no one talks about this being an all-Canadian group anymore because of veteran leadership, while youngster John Comiskey has settled in nicely at centre.
- C+ QUARTERBACKS
While the offence has moved the ball most of the season, the responsibility for scoring lies with the quarterback. Henry Burris has failed to consistently punch the ball into the endzone after putting together some decent drives. The red-zone performance needs to improve if the Stamps hope to win the West Division.
Early in the season, Burris appeared to be plagued by silly decisions and a love of the deep pass.
In recent weeks, the 31-year-old has settled down to engineer wins.
Maybe Burris just is a slow starter but his struggles have been troubling because of the way he ended 2005.
Backup Danny McManus has done everything asked of him and is a reliable presence coming off the bench. Most of what McManus adds in the form of knowledge and leadership doesn't show up on the scoresheet.
Joffrey Reynolds has emerged as arguably the most effective back in the CFL and clearly will be a star for years to come. The team recognized this early in the season and locked him up to a long-term contract extension.
The only knock on Reynolds is his low touchdown total (two in nine games). Failure to score on many occasions isn't his fault because blocking assignments are sometimes blown but he seems to stall within the 10-yard line.
Still, with a 6.6-yard average, Reynolds will challenge for the rushing title.
Backup David Allen missed most of the first half with a knee injury, while Wes Cates has proven himself as a blocker and on special teams.
Main returner David Allen missed six games with a knee injury and hasn't found his form since returning.
Rookie J.R. Ruffin has a solid kickoff return average but Ken-Yon Rambo didn't do much on punts when given the chance.
Over the past season and a half, this is the one area consistently lacking in production.
The Stamps would like an upgrade, possibly with the return of Terrence Wilkins from the NFL, or at least start getting more production from Allen.
The overall production is fine but compared to the big plays they created over the past two seasons, the unit has lacked some sizzle.
This could be because Brian Clark, George White and John Grace missed games with injuries, although backups Khalid Abdullah and Cornelius Anthony did fine jobs in their places.
It's not a given Grace will get his job back from Anthony, if only to give the group an overall boost by shaking things up.
The previously Fab Four haven't put a touchdown on the board, as they have done in the past.
- B D-LINE
The pass rush has been solid this season, creating enough pressure to disrupt opposing offences.
This group is strong against the run and is adept at stripping the ball, with veteran ends Rahim Abdullah and Demetrious Maxie still forces from the outside.
Tackles Sheldon Napastuk and Randy Chevrier draw plenty of attention in the middle when they rotate and are good run stuffers as well. Abdullah is among the league leaders in sacks with six, his most memorable one being the hit on Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Kerry Joseph. Backups Terrence Patrick and Miguel Robede look like keepers and will fight for starting spots down the road.
- C + SECONDARY
The Stamps have allowed the most yards passing and by far the highest completion percentage in the league.
Some of that is because of scheme, with the bend-don't-break policy being used by defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan.
The Stamps have 26 takeaways to suggest this method is working but the secondary is middle of the pack in interceptions.
On the bright side, second-year Stampeder Coby Rhinehart is emerging as a force on the corner and has consistently played well against the opposition's top receivers, creating some turnovers of his own.
- B + KICKERS
Placekicker Sandro DeAngelis is riding a high after kicking field goals of 52 and 53 yards to win the game over Montreal.
Before that, he signed a big contract extension, then promptly missed two against the 'Riders. He previously hit on 15 straight and was twice special teams player of the week.
The only thing dogging punter Burke Dales is consistency but when he's playing well, he gives the team strong directional kicking and good field position.
- B OVERALL MARK
This team has the potential to be a Grey Cup contender but seeing that potential through is another story.
If the team plays error-free, it usually has a chance at winning but too often mistakes pile up and break down confidence.
Coming back to beat the Montreal Alouettes was a good sign because it was the first winning team the club defeated this season. The Stamps still need to prove that wasn't an aberration.
While it's true they were only a couple of plays away from winning some early-season games, they could have easily lost some early games they won.
All in all, there's still plenty of room for improvement.