Stamps' mid-term report card

IAN BUSBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

The 2008 version of the Calgary Stampeders have yet to find their identity and are very much a work in progress.

Are they the high-scoring, heart-palpitating group that we saw early, when they lost a couple of CFL games in last-second shootouts?

Are they the road-warrior, control-the-ball, cool and methodical machines they were through August? Or are they the sloppy team that fumbled away a win on Labour Day?

They rebounded from that loss to beat the Edmonton Eskimos Friday to get into a tie for second place in the West Division, but that further muddied the picture.

What they are is undefined, but that identity will be forged in the next two months as they try to play catchup to the division-leading Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Luckily for the Stamps and new head coach John Hufnagel, there is plenty of season left to get it right heading into the playoff run.

"We're on the right path," Hufnagel said. "The penalties have been reduced, and people haven't been running the ball up and down the field against us.

"We have a lot of room for improvement. We understand that and realize that. If we keep on improving, then we'll be OK heading into the playoffs. Our goal is to get to the playoffs and do some good things there."

It's time to hand out mid-term report cards:

OFFENCE

B+

Quarterbacks

Henry Burris has matured and cut out many of the silly mistakes that plagued him throughout his career, and the only thing that will slow him down is injury. He left with turf toe on Labour Day and, surprise, the Stamps lost the game. The Stamps were 0-5 when Burris was injured or didn't start last year. With Dave Dickenson out the rest of the season with post-concussion symptoms, the backup role goes to either Barrick Nealy or Ben Sankey.

Running backs

B

Joffrey Reynolds keeps chugging along up the franchise rushing yards list, moving into fifth spot on the all-time chart. He is still one of the elite backs in the league and appears as durable as ever, although it would be wise not to use him as a kick returner after he suffered back spasms on Labour Day. Canadian Jon Cornish is a good change-of-pace back and should warrant more action to spell Reynolds in the second half. Since Teyo Johnson took over at fullback, the 6-foot-5 Canadian has emerged a solid blocker.

Receivers

B-

Ken-Yon Rambo has emerged as the go-to guy in his fourth season in Red and White. Rambo was moved to the short-side wideout spot this training camp and has run with the move. Nik Lewis is having another solid season with seven touchdowns but is now battling a rib injury. Jeremaine Copeland was struggling with an off-year before his great performance Friday against the Eskimos. Brett Ralph is having his best season as well.

Offensive line

A

If anyone would have told you the Stamps would be starting three rookies and at the midway point have the lowest sack total in the CFL, you likely wouldn't have believed it. Draft picks Dimitri Tsoumpas and Jesse Newman have stepped in at guard to do solid work, while Ben Archibald has taken over for Antonio Hall at left tackle and done a good job. The line is anchored by veterans Rob Lazeo at centre and Jeff Pilon at right tackle. They are solid rushing the ball as well.

DEFENCE

Defensive line

C

The stats don't lie. Before Friday's game, the Stamps were worst in the league for quarterback sacks, and although that is sometimes a meaningless number, when the line doesn't pressure the QB, it affects the entire defence. Mike Labinjo is a ratio-breaker and emerging star at defensive end, but he has been moved around a bit to limit his effectiveness. The Stamps could use another high-impact lineman.

Linebackers

B

JoJuan Armour has taken over the defence and becoming the vocal and emotional leader, but he had an up-and-down first half by missing one game to injury and getting thrown out of another. The move to put Dwaine Carpenter at short-side backer from safety appears solid, while Shannon James has done his usual steady job.

Defensive backs

C

The Stamps have allowed the second-most passing yards of any team in the league, but that isn't all the secondary's fault, although they absorb most of the blame. In some games, there was no pressure on the quarterback which gave him time to throw. Cornerback Brandon Browner plays aggressively, which has backfired a bit with penalties, and opposing teams aren't afraid to throw his way anymore.

SPECIAL TEAMS

KICKERS

Sandro DeAngelis had a bit of a rough start, but only by his standards. He has hit on his last 22 of his last 23 field goals to raise his average to 87.5%. Punter Burke Dales is still inconsistent but is starting to find a groove as well.

Returners

C

An injury to Canadian returner Markus Howell threw things into a tizzy for Labour Day, as newcomer Nate Curry and running back Joffrey Reynolds lost fumbles. Howell was improving as the season went on, but early on there wasn't a huge threat.

Cover Team

B

As with most units, they were getting better as the season progressed. The problem was some of the cover players were on and off the roster (best example being Matt Grootegoed). Jon Cornish is the strongest cover player and leads in tackles. They haven't had huge bust and have only allowed a punt-block TD.

COACHING

B

New head man John Hufnagel has set a serious tone on the practice field and locker-room, which has trickled down throughout the club. Offensive co-ordinator George Cortez has continued to do a good job with quarterback Henry Burris, while new defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones has had to build a defence almost from scratch with only two returning starters in the same spot.


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