CALGARY - There is a freshness around the Calgary Stampeders this spring.
Like newly cut grass, there is a feel around the team. It’s that of a new year and, undoubtedly, a different era.
Just like a lawn, though, the Stamps roster looks much like it did before the trimming, just a bit greener in certain areas.
Over the past five months, John Hufnagel has taken out the yard equipment and done some shaping. Now, he just needs it to grow.
The training-camp roster unveiled Tuesday features plenty of different names in key spots compared with this time last year, but one thing stands out.
The player listed at the top of each spot on the depth chart was with the club for at least part of the 2011 CFL season.
Still, with Drew Tate as the No. 1 quarterback, backed by veteran Kevin Glenn at No. 2, and Jon Cornish as the starting tailback, the Stamps are entering a new phase.
There is no question about that.
And two of the biggest position areas to watch in terms of camp battles are on the defensive side of the ball.
“This training camp is more intriguing, a bit more of a mystery just because of the changes we made towards last season and the changes this off-season with our defensive co-ordinator position,” Hufnagel said. “I’m pleased to have (new defensive co-ordinator) Rick Campbell on board, and the veteran players are excited to have Rick as their leader.”
There are 17 defensive lineman fighting for the four starting jobs and probably eight rotation spots, while there are 14 linebackers vying to be the three starters, although one is basically a defensive back.
Demetrice Morley will move from safety to be a full-time coverage linebacker, while Keon Raymond goes to boundary corner and Quincy Butler is listed as a halfback.
Raymond hasn’t been at the same spot from any season to the next, but he’s a huge part of the defence, as evidenced by his Presidents’ Ring award — given to a player exuding excellence on and off the field — this off-season.
“That’s where they will start the first day of training camp,” Hufnagel said. “The second practice, it may be shuffled.
“We believe at boundary corner, Keon can be an effective player for us. If things work out where another DB shows he can play the corner position, we know we have the luxury of moving Keon somewhere else.”
With Campbell replacing Chris Jones, who left for the Toronto Argonauts, having so many different players to work with will help the new co-ordinator develop his own system.
Just how different that system will be was one thing Hufnagel didn’t want to reveal.
“When you talk about a Chris Jones defence, you are talking about a lot of pressure and a lot of variables,” Hufnagel said. “Rick will be more steady, if that’s the right word. I don’t want to say vanilla. Rick won’t be vanilla. He just won’t be getting into a lot of the different things Chris Jones did during his stay.”
The reason so many linebackers are in camp is because last year that position group was decimated by injuries.
Malik Jackson, Robert McCune, Juwan Simpson and Brandon Isaac all missed good portions of the season with injuries, and there was a lot of shuffling.
All of them are back except for Isaac, and the addition of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn adds another veteran to the mix, but building depth was key to Hufnagel.
There are plenty of ways the roster could be different this season, but Hufnagel always lets the players sort it out with their performances during camp.
“We always try to bring highly skilled players in for competition,” Hufnagel said. “May the best man win.
“We lost very few players to free agency. Yes, we lost a couple — but not like some other teams. The stability over the last four years has been pretty strong.
“As always, there is change, and some happens during the off-season, and some occurs because of the competition during training camp.”