No dancing with stars

Following an off-season of relative inactivity, Tom Higgins insists the difference this year will...

Following an off-season of relative inactivity, Tom Higgins insists the difference this year will be the attention to tiny details. (Sun File/Darren Makowichuk)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

The way Tom Higgins sees it, his Calgary Stampeders should have one goal in mind when camp opens in 11 days.

"Learn how to secure the football in playoff games," said the Stamps head coach, half jokingly.

After frittering away each of the last two West semifinals by coughing up a total of 11 turnovers, holding onto the ball will indeed be emphasized.

However, another one of his focuses, said Higgins in his annual state of the franchise conference call yesterday, is to see fewer touchdown celebrations.

Not fewer touchdowns, just a little less choreography once the ball crosses the goal line.

"I like to think that what happened last year won't happen again this year," said the Stampeders head coach and Sr. vp of football operations, referring to a series of staged celebrations that drew the ire of the coach and teams around the league.

"It comes back to the little things like discipline that I think got away from me last year but was able to get back into line. When it got out of hand, we took care of it. (Eliminating it) is going to be recommended -- not in the books as a fine -- but it is all part of being professional."

Having bolstered his receiving corps, re-jigged his o-line, added depth to the backfield and brought back storied offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, there's a good chance Higgins' troops will score even more touchdowns this year.

Following an off-season of relative inactivity, he insists the difference this year will be the attention to tiny details like whether or not a team can celebrate touchdowns by staging a mock track meet at Commonwealth Stadium.

"The reflection during the offseason was how to get us back to the (Grey Cup). We've been a good team the last two seasons with 11 and 10 wins, but the level of anticipation was so high last year that anything less than getting back to the Grey Cup was almost considered a failure," said Higgins, whose second-place club was upset last fall by Saskatchewan.

"It's all about getting back to the little details that will allow us to get back there."

And that starts with bringing in increased competition to almost every position.

Nowhere else is that more obvious than the receiving corps, which is now undoubtedly the league's deepest.

"Nik (Lewis), Jeremaine (Copeland), Elijah (Thurmon), Ken-Yon (Rambo), Ryan Thelwell, Marc Boerigter, Marcus (Howell), Brett (Ralph) ... we have everyone on the depth chart put in in pencil," said Higgins, who will have to part with at least two big names in camp.

A few proven o-linemen have been brought in and NFL bust Akili Smith, 31, is already being penciled in as the club's backup quarterback behind Henry Burris.

"I've liked him for a number of years and I'm not sure why he hasn't been able to excel in the NFL, but we're going to put him in a position to see if he can dislodge Henry from some of his playing time," said Higgins.

He said his kickoff returner will likely be J.R. Ruffin and the punt returner is slated to be Marcus Howell. Embattled kicker Duncan O'Mahony will return to Stamps camp to push Sandro DeAngelis and Burke Dales. Even star running back Joffrey Reynolds will have a few studs breathing down his neck in Ken Simonton and Kansas Jayhawks hotshot Jon Cornish.

And that's not to mention the defence.

But then Higgins shouldn't be worried about them -- they don't fumble or do endzone dances.


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