Canadian content crunchtime

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:35 PM ET

By solving one problem, John Hufnagel has created four others.

And he’s leaving up to his Canadian players to sort it out.

As the Calgary Stampeders GM-head coach held his annual pre-training camp address Wednesday, he revealed his club will in fact go with two imports along the offensive line to start the season.

With Ben Archibald on the left side and either Sam Allen or Edwin Harrison on the right side, Hufnagel has the basis for a strong offensive line by using imports at tackle.

But playing just three Canadians on the line means four spots elsewhere will be filled by home-grown talent.

The alarm bells should be going off to the likes of Mike Labinjo, Wes Lysack, Arjei Franklin and Rob Cote.

Those are the projected starters to begin training camp Sunday, but every Canadian on the roster needs to get better in a hurry.

“They better come to camp competing to be a starter and having the want and desire,” Hufnagel said about. “If the opportunity isn’t there initially, it could still be the second day of camp.

“I’m looking for some young guys to step up and play winning football for us. I need that to happen.”

Hufnagel admitted the past month hasn’t been great for his team, especially in terms of losing Canadians.

Right tackle Jeff Pilon, versatile backup Markus Howell and starting receiver Brett Ralph all retired.

Pilon’s move changed the designs on the ratio, but Ralph’s was the biggest surprise considering he hadn’t missed a game since 2005.

The safety position will be occupied by a Canuck, with Lysack the starter and newcomers Eric Fraser and Taurean Allen as the reserves.

With Ryan Thelwell coming back from a torn Achilles, Franklin will take Ralph’s position, with Cochrane native Blaine Kruger and Calgary product Johnny Forzani needed to fill in if needed.

Big things are also expected of running back Jon Cornish, and Hufnagel made a pledge Wednesday to use him in different scenarios.

However, the most important player during training camp might be Labinjo, as one spot along the defensive line will be for a non-import.

The defensive end became a star in the 2008 Grey Cup run, but he had a terrible 2009 in which he came to camp heavier than expected, missing nearly two months with a broken leg and never regained his form.

By the end of the season, Labinjo was a healthy scratch, and he vowed to hit the gym to regain the explosiveness that made him a breakout player in 2008.

Shortly after the Stamps lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final, Hufnagel sat down with Labinjo and the two agreed the player would slim down from 310 lb.

“I knew Mike is a big man. I didn’t know how much the weight would affect him,” Hufnagel said. “After I saw him play and realized how much it affected him, I was extremely disappointed.

“From the conversations I’ve had with him, it was all under the structure that for him to play his best football, it’s not at the weight level he was last year.

“He understood that and that’s why he worked hard to get the job done. He might not make the final weight but it’s still considerably less than last year.”

Labinjo is probably an example of a team-wide problem the Stamps had in 2009. As defending champions, they struggled to maintain a high level of desire after reaching the pinnacle.

Hufnagel doesn’t expect that to be a problem this season.

“In my conversations with the players, it seems there’s that fire inside them,” Hufnagel said. “They want to prove to our fans and other people that the Stamps aren’t a one-trick pony.

“Last year, I spent a little time in my meeting trying to combat the overconfidence of being the defending Grey Cup champs. I don’t have to say that this year.”


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