Ralph's departure an opportunity for teammates

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:25 PM ET

From an organizational point of view, Brett Ralph’s last-minute retirement did throw a crimp in the Calgary Stampeders plans.

The flip side is the opportunity that was created.

Ralph’s decision earlier this week to call it a career opens a spot on the roster and a chance for the club’s young receivers to shine at this week’s rookie camp.

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open because there’s (Ryan) Thelwell and Arjei Franklin, vets, who are around, but it’s definitely pushing me,” said rookie Johnny Forzani. “I think I have a chance to contend.”

So does fellow fresh face Ron Kelly.

As does second-year pass catcher Blaine Kruger.

Thelwell, who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, is expected to recover well enough to resume his role, but even though he’s no sure thing at age 37, that’s the closest thing the Stampeders have as a sure-thing among their non-import receivers.

Thelwell is not expected to take part in the two-a-day workouts when they begin Sunday.

Teyo Johnson also retired in the off-season, as did Markus Howell, who started his career as a receiver but was lining up as a defensive back on top of his returning duties.

Franklin, acquired midway through last season via trade with Winnipeg, will certainly be given the best chance of his career, now in his fifth year.

From that point, though, it’s up to the youngsters.

“It was a surprise to see him go — he was awesome to work with last year and I can’t say enough good things about him — but it does create an opportunity,” Kruger said of Ralph’s retirement. “I still have to play football. I knew going into this year that if I played well, I’d have a shot. For me, whether Brett was here or not, it doesn’t change my mind set.”

Kruger, who was signed after the 2009 season opener, dressed in three games last year and spent most of the year on the practice roster.

The 24-year-old from Cochrane who played at the University of British Columbia, arrived in camp 18 pounds heavier, but faster, after an off-season being put through his paces by linebackers/strength and conditioning coach Brent Monson.

“I was working on my 40s and my bench press more than I ever have before. I hope it’s going to translate out there, because I feel really good,” Kruger said.

“Being here from the start is a big thing for me, too. I know the playbook better than I did last year, so mentally I’m a lot more prepared.”

Not that Kruger should feel secure in his position, but there are a couple of new faces in the same position he had a year ago.

Forzani is certainly as highly touted as a player can be having played just a couple of seasons of football in his life.

Son of Wall-of-Famer Tom Forzani, the 21-year-old receiver is coming off just one season in college — at Washington State — after one year with the junior Calgary Colts, but possesses so much potential.

A converted basketball player — who is wearing No. 80 and not the No. 22 his father wore during a stellar career with the Red and White — Forzani has great speed and is working diligently to make up for lost time on the nuances of the game.

“The routes and catching and running is all natural ability and easy to learn if you practice them. I’ve practised those things every day pretty much for three years, so that part, I feel I’ve gotten much better at,” Forzani said. “The biggest thing for me is understanding the offence, reading defences and coverages, that stuff. It isn’t easy and moves fast. You don’t have a lot of room for error.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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