Stamps have holes to fill

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

CALGARY - By John Hufnagel’s count, the Calgary Stampeders have twice as many major holes to fill as last year at this time.

That doesn’t mean he’s pulling out his hair.

In the 2010 CFL season, the Stamps looked like they would need to stick their thumbs in the dike to stay afloat when a rash of veterans jumped ship. Turns out, they were the league’s best regular-season team.

This season, there are four all-stars to replace with the departures of defensive tackle Tom Johnson, left tackle Ben Archibald and cornerbacks Dwight Anderson and Brandon Browner, which means training camp will be competitive.

Compared with two all-star calibre players last year — kicker Sandro DeAngelis and right tackle Jeff Pilon — finding replacements is a bigger task, says Hufnagel.

As always, the Stampeders GM-head coach is confident the off-season work will pay dividends starting Thursday when rookie camp opens.

“I’m never afraid of a challenge,” Hufnagel said Tuesday. “I’m never afraid of change. That’s what pro sports are all about, especially in the era of a salary cap.

“If you are not prepared for it, then it can be damaging. We do have some great prospects coming in to play some sound football and, hopefully, win some games.”

The biggest question on everyone’s minds is what to do about finding some impact players such as Browner and Anderson as cornerstones of the defence.

Free-agent Geoff Tisdale was signed out of Hamilton for one of the spots, while sophomore Johnnie Dixon gained some valuable experience last season in limited action.

There are also newcomers Darin Stone and Greg Fassitt to push those CFL veterans for playing time at cornerback.

By the time camp ends, Hufnagel expects those positions will be filled by capable players.

“We are going to test those guys enough in training camp so they are ready for the season,” Hufnagel said.

When quickly scanning the Stampeders’ depth chart, the defensive tackle spot vacated by Johnson stands out.

Six players are listed at that position, with the only veteran being DeVone Claybrooks, as the Stamps are clearly going to be holding an open audition for the starting job.

“We did what we could to replace Tom with an athletic defensive tackle like Tom was,” Hufnagel said. “We have a lot of depth there.”

Although the Stamps have lost starting right tackle Edwin Harrison for up to four games due to a torn pectoral muscle, they believe this could be a chance for someone to stand out during camp.

Import tackles Stanley Bryant and Gerald Cadogan were with the team at the end of last year and have the jump on starting jobs, but Harrison’s injury gives rookie Canadian J’Michael Deane a chance to shine.

“The opportunity is there for whatever offensive tackle jumps up, no matter the nationality,” Hufnagel said.

At the centre position, there is going to be battle for the starting job between Tim O’Neill and Jon Gott, who Hufnagel says will come into camp as one of the most improved players in terms of physical conditioning.

“This is a big year for Jon, and he’s anxious to show he deserves to be on the field,” Hufnagel said.

There is also shuffling in the defensive backfield, as Milt Collins moves to safety, Brandon Isaac gets a look at coverage linebacker and Keon Raymond could shift to halfback.

Of course, those are all things to be straightened out during camp, but the coaching staff should have some tough decisions to finalize the roster June 25.


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