Stamps set rock-solid roster

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

There are some offensive line injuries and questions about new defensive starters, but the Calgary Stampeders are primed to kick off their Grey Cup defence.

GM/head coach John Hufnagel announced his opening-day roster yesterday, and there were no real surprises in terms of veterans released.

The 12 offensive starters were with the team last season, as are eight of the 12 on defence.

The Stamps have the least amount of turnover in the CFL.

"I'm optimistic. I have concerns, and everyone in this room knows what those concerns are," Hufnagel said, referring to the lineman injuries.

"We know our 42 come July 1 -- 12 on each side -- and we'll get after it.

"We have a lot of hard work between now and then. Now that we know our players, we can focus on the game plan to give ourselves a chance to win against Montreal."

Of the 11 releases, only one -- defensive lineman Julian Jenkins -- was with the team a year ago.

Jenkins tried to come back from a broken leg, but he was beaten out for a defensive tackle position by newcomers Justin Brown, Tom Johnson and Odell Willis.

Although Johnson will start the season on the injured list, he appears to be a starter down the road along with Mike Labinjo, Brown and Juwan Simpson, clearing up the biggest question mark heading into camp.

Tray Blackmon is officially the starter at middle linebacker, but Hufnagel confirmed he has talked to free agent Jamall Johnson, who spent the past few seasons in B.C.

Drew Tate won the third-string QB battle over Matt D'Orazio, while Titus Ryan is on the active roster in the final receiver spot in a deep corps.

Third-year Stampeder Rob Cote won the fullback job after Teyo Johnson surprisingly retired before camp, and Hufnagel singled him out as a bright spot.

Johnson is expected to end his retirement and rejoin the team, but Cote seems to have made the most of his chance to wow the brass.

"I told Rob after the first week of camp his improvement was 50%, to throw out a figure," Hufnagel said. "There was a great improvement in Rob's play, and I was pleased to see that. He's still a very young player."

Right tackle Jeff Pilon (knee) will start the season on the injured list, but Hufnagel put sophomore Jesse Newman on the active roster despite not taking a snap during camp.

With Derek Armstrong (tricep) on the IR, Hufnagel is gambling Newman can be ready in less than a week to resume his spot at left guard.

"He has to prove he can go," Hufnagel said. "I expect him in pads (today). We will take that day-by-day, step-by-step.

"We'll see how he reacts to being on the practice field again. I'm hoping he's able to dress for the game. In what capacity, the week of practice will tell us that. Jesse missed camp last year and I had the same thought process for him then and he ended up playing a lot of football early."


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