Argos ready to be Stamps collectors
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Argos Ahmad Carroll (left) and Evan McCullough (not pictured) are expected to be handed the tough assignment of containing Eskimos receiver Fred Stamps during Sunday's East semifinal. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
TORONTO - Somebody is going to have to cover Edmonton’s Fred Stamps Sunday for the Argonauts.
Chances are, the guy getting the short straw, will be Evan McCullough.
Not that anyone in Double Blue was tipping their hand Friday.
“Were still working that out. Maybe a number of guys. Maybe,” said head coach Scott Milanovich, laughing, “all of them.”
Even that might not keep the artful receiver from getting his hands on the ball.
Stamps has been on a rampage after a slow start in a season during which the Edmonton offence has struggled to find an identity.
“He knows the game and he’s smart. He plays the ball well in the air. He’s athletic. For any defence he’s a problem player,” McCullough said.
Now in his third season, McCullough is highly regarded for his footwork and he is rarely out of position to make a play. While he rates as probably Toronto’s best cover defender, McCullough wasn’t prepared to confirm that he had drawn the assignment against Stamps.
While he lined up there in practice, he said: “I can’t (say) what we’re doing on defence. But if I get lined up against him it’s going to be a great challenge to go against one of the best receivers in the league. I’m ready.”
McCullough has put up some highlight reel hits in his three seasons in Double Blue and, while not shutting down exactly, he has made some of the league’s better receivers appear ordinary this season.
“Tremendous athlete. Great change of direction. Can really stick his foot in the ground and stay with the receiver,” Milanovich said. “And he can do it both press-man and off-man. Evan has a lot of talent. There are things he needs to improve but he certainly can cover man to man.”
McCullough will need perhaps his biggest performance of the season Sunday, although Toronto’s Ahmad Carroll is also likely to introduce himself to Stamps.
Just as Ricky Ray has heated up on the offensive side of the ball for Toronto, Stamps has been October lightning, winning player of the month honours with 24 catches for 585 yards and five touchdowns. He collected his fourth consecutive West Division all-star honour, and recorded 1,000 receiving yards for the past four seasons, but the one thrill that has eluded Stamps is a Grey Cup. So, like most of the ringless Argonauts, he has an equal incentive.
McCullough, too, has had his moments to shine. There have been none of the public accolades. No all-star selections. But his 54 tackles rank fourth on the team. Just 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, he hits like a Scud missile. And while interceptions aren’t a big part of his game, he did have two, including one that sealed Toronto’s playoff berth.
“I think a lot of guys on this team are under-rated,” Milanovich said. “He’s had his great moments like the pick at the end of the Saskatchewan game that sealed the win.”
But, as moments go, this Sunday could turn out to be his most challenging.
Carroll, who has NFL experience with the Packers and Jets, has played against some of the slipperiest pass-catchers to ever make a defensive back consider a career alternative in insurance sales. And, he said, Stamps has that special quality.
“He does a good job of seperating during the route,” Carroll said. “You get a good jam on him and you can be running step by step but when the ball is in the air he does a good job of seperating. Not necessarily him pushing off. He just has nice judgement of the ball in the air.
“He has wide receiver hands. By that I mean wide receiver coaches teach late hands. Most receivers when the ball is in the air they lay their hands out. If you are a DB who doesn’t like to turn your head and look for the ball he does a good job of just putting out his hand the second the ball comes and not before.
“That makes it difficult for a DB because the ball is caught before you can extend your hand to knock it away,
“Great route runner. Will block. Will extend the route. He knows where to go.”
In other words, he can pretty much do it all, packaging 1,310 yards (just 18 behind Toronto’s league leading Chad Owens) and a career-best nine touchdowns this season on just 70 receptions.
The good news for the Argonauts is that in two meetings this year he hasn’t hurt them much. On Aug. 27, he had four catches for 77 yards. In a June 30 game, he had 21 yards on four catches.
The bad news is, Toronto still lost both games.
“I haven’t ever matched up on him all game long before,” McCullough said. “I don’t know. I do know I have pretty good instincts ... anticipation. When I do go against him he might win one, I might win one. But you have to believe you can win every time.”