Stamps eye fresh start

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:02 PM ET

With seven days away from the practice field, Calgary Stampeders players have been mandated not to gain any extra pounds or else feel the wrath of John Hufnagel.

It also seems the head coach doesn't want a last-second 38-35 loss Thursday night against the Edmonton Eskimos to be weighing on their minds.

No one expected the 2008 Grey Cup champions to be 3-4 heading into the bye week, and that includes the players.

"We're going to take a week off and come back and Huf said it's going to be a fresh start," said veteran receiver Ryan Thelwell.

"If your mind's not right, don't come back, you know? We're the defending champs and we have to start playing like it."

The shootout loss to the Eskimos highlighted several things the Stamps are struggling with as they go into the break.

The rushing defence is the worst in the CFL with more than 140 yards allowed per outing.

Special teams coverage allowed Tristan Jackson to get within scoring range twice in crucial moments.

And when the game was on the line, six rushers couldn't get enough pressure on Ricky Ray to disrupt a game-winning touchdown pass.

With player personnel director Jim Barker at NFL camps looking for talent, Hufnagel didn't rule out seeing new faces when the team returns to practice Aug. 26.

Asked whether he was confident in this group to turn things around, Hufnagel didn't exactly spread around compliments.

"I believe in them. I'm not so sure that my confidence is the same as it was, but we need to understand that we need, as a football team, to improve," Hufnagel said.

"To me, it was a team that didn't get it done, not one side or one phase of the game.

"It's an ongoing process. We need to get better in a short period of time and however we think we can best do that, we will take that course of action.

"The training wheels are off.

"We should be able to execute our assignments in a manner that will win football games."

Judging from the comments yesterday as players packed up to leave town for a few days, Hufnagel's message went beyond monitoring their weight.

Hufnagel said he made the players step on the scales before leaving and he wouldn't tolerate a higher number when they return.

It sounds as if the head coach has challenged his group to find answers themselves as to why they have let games slip away in the final moments.

Losses to the Alouettes, Roughriders and Eskimos were all decided during crunch time.

"The time right now is good," said defensive tackle Tom Johnson. "We can get football off our minds.

"We'll find out what type of men we are. Either you stand up or lay down. This gives guys a chance to refocus and get ready for the rest of the season."

A year ago, the Stamps passed a key hurdle in their season when they beat the Roughriders in Regina before taking the bye and then going into Vancouver and knocking off the Lions.

They only lost twice the rest of the way en route to the Grey Cup.

"This break will be the turning point," said receiver Jeremaine Copeland. "If guys go home and get the focus and right mentality about what we need to do in order to win, then we'll come back fine in the second half."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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