Huffer shuffles deck

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

The Huffer was hired to breathe new life into a franchise that had been underachieving.

Although the Calgary Stampeders finished second in the CFL West at 10-8 last season, they lost the semifinal to the third-place Saskatchewan Roughriders -- the eventual Grey Cup champs. So, the Stamps fired head coach Tom Higgins and hired former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback John Hufnagel as their new head coach/GM.

"Yes, I am the the head coach and GM but all the focus should be on the players," Hufnagel said during a state-of-the-franchise conference call yesterday. "They're the ones who get the credit when we are successful and when we're not, I get the flak and that's the way it should be."

Actually, quarterback Henry Burris has borne the brunt of a lot of the blame for the club's lack of success since his much-heralded arrival in Cowtown four years ago. But the fact that well-regarded offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, who had been considered for the head man's job in Saskatchewan, is back should help Burris.

"I thought Henry's play took a step forward under his tutelage last year," Hufnagel said. "When he started off the year, he didn't play real good football. He had turnovers and no leadership. But the sign of a good football player is to be able to change that and he took a step forward after the first two games, although he did have some injuries. But we had a very successful year statistically on offence last year."

Also coming to the aid of the Stamps party was the signing of free-agent quarterback Dave Dickenson.

"That allows me to sleep better at night, knowing that he can go in if Henry gets nicked," said Hufnagel, who was the Bombers backup when Winnipeg won the 1984 Grey Cup. "And that will also help us to develop the younger quarterbacks."

But there will be pressure on Burris and Co., to keep the Stamps in games while their revamped defence rounds into form. Toward that end, the Stamps drafted two offensive lineman in the recent Canadian college draft and are working toward giving the quarterback better protection as well as opening holes for running back Joffrey Reynolds.

"The more physical our offensive line can be, the better our running game will be," Hufnagel said.

The Stamps have also added former Bombers/Roughriders import O-lineman Jermese Jones after releasing import O-lineman Garrick Jones and traded non-import O-lineman John Comiskey to Edmonton. Guard Jay McNeil also retired.

Although pleased with the receiving corps he inherited, Hufnagel is looking to change the ratio and add some speed on offence.

But the defence has already started to undergo a metamorphosis. Calgary has already released veteran linebackers Brian Clark, Scott Coe and Cornelius Anthony, as well as defensive lineman Keron Williams and defensive back Sadrick Wilson. Import defensive lineman Terrius George has signed an NFL contract. The Stamps have signed non-import Richard Karikari, who is pencilled in as the starting safety, import linebacker JoJuan Armour and import defensive back Dwight Anderson.

The Stamps have reverted to a 4-3 defence under former Montreal Alouettes defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones with Trey Young and Shannon James rounding out the linebacking corps. But the front four is an area of concern heading into camp.

"I look forward to a very competitive year, whether you call it re-tooling or rebuilding, we just want to win games," said Hufnagel, who noted two significant changes in the game since he last coached in the CFL back in 1996. "The speed on defence that has helped contain the offence ... and there is more diversity in the defensive schemes."

Hufnagel had been coaching in both the NFL and AFL since '96.

Meanwhile, the Stamps have enjoyed a 15% increase in season ticket sales since they announced that Calgary will host the 2009 Grey Cup.

Calgary Stampeders

Key new guys

QB Dave Dickenson (B.C.), LB JoJuan Armour (Hamilton), DB Dwight Anderson (Hamilton), S Richard Karikari (Hamilton), OL Jermese Jones (Saskatchewan), WR Nate Currie (Hamilton)

Key returnees

QB Henry Burris, RB Joffrey Reynolds, WR Jeremaine Copeland, K Sandro DeAngelis, CB Brandon Browner, DE Terrence Patrick

Key departures

LB Brian Clark (released), LB Scott Coe (released), OL John Comiskey (traded to Edmonton), LB Cornelius Anthony (released), FB Gerald Commisiong (retired), OL Garrick Jones (released), OL Jay McNeil (retired), DT Keron Williams (released)


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