Last season the Calgary Stampeders went 15-3 during the regular season and 2-0 in the playoffs enroute to their sevent Grey Cup Championship. Without a doubt the high octane Stamps offense played a big part in 2014’s success. At the same time, the way Calgary’s defense shutdown opposition played just as big of a role and will once again have to be a big factor if the team will be playing in Winnipeg come late November.
One thing the Stampeders certainly have going for them is the fact that just about everyone who made an impact last season will be back for the 2015 campaign. In 2014, the Stamps were second only to the Edmonton Eskimos in points allowed and lead the CFL in many of the defensive team categories. The stingy defense hit the 50 sack mark which was good for fourth in the league and tied for top spot in interceptions with 20. They were also able to force 18 fumbles and produce three touchdowns while the defense was on the field. Those numbers aren’t bad at all and with just about everyone back, one would think it only means good things for the red and white.
Among the returning class for the Stampeders will be a couple of long time veterans that will be back for their eighth season with the team. Keon Raymond will once again lead the secondary and after a season in 2014 where he had five interceptions including one for a touchdown. At 33, Raymond isn’t showing many signs of slowing down and will once again be looked upon to lead the secondary into battle. Brandon Smith has been around just as long as Raymond and after finishing third in the CFL with 85 tackles, will be relied upon for another big year. Smith won’t be the only one the team is expecting big things from. Jamar Wall will look to build on his league leading six interceptions from a season ago. Fred Bennett and Josh Bell both started all 18 games in the defensive backfield last season and will once again look for similar production.
A couple of familiar faces and some veteran help brought in via trade lead the linebackers this season. Juwan Simpson started 18 games at middle linebacker and had 74 tackles, four tackles for a loss, four knockdowns and four sacks is back for his eighth season with the team. Deron Mayo had 67 tackles, four knockdowns, two sacks and led the team with two fumble recoveries. Glenn Love played in 15 games last season and finished second on the team with 20 special-teams tackles. Love is battling an injury right now but hopes to be back on the field for the second week of camp.
Jasper Simmons was brought thanks to a trade with the Ottawa RedBlacks, which saw Mo Price head the other way. Simmons played 17 games for the RedBlacks and recorded 80 tackles, including two for losses, seven special-teams tackles, one forced fumble, a knockdown and three interceptions for 61 yards. He was Ottawa’s nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player awards.
As is the case for the entire defense, familiar faces on the defensive line will be back. The only departure is a major one, as Shawn Lemon was granted his release from the team to pursue employment in the NFL and that is exactly what he is doing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Charleston Hughes leads the group of returning players looking to bounce back after an injury riddled season held him to just 11 games and forced him to sit out the Grey Cup. The multiple time West Division all-star hopes a healthy year is on the horizon.
Last season’s President’s Ring winner, Corey Mace and Micha Johnson both start the year on the suspended list as they battle injuries. Neither has reported to camp, but both are expected at some point before the season starts. At that point they will be re-evaluated and the team will have a better idea on their health. The roles for both Junior Turner and Demonte Bolden may increase while the team awaits injury news on the other players. Turner started 7 games last season while Bolden played his way off the reserve list season only to suffer a broken leg on September 13th and miss time up until the Grey Cup game where he blocked a field goal. Freddie Bishop, Dequin Evans, Frank Beltre, and Quinn Smith were all valuable members of the d-line last season, gained experience and will once again be relied upon to provide depth and valuable reps at the position this year.
One of the biggest factors this season for Calgary’s defense will be the man calling the shots. Rich Stubler is back for his second year as defensive coordinator, which makes any learning curve for returning players non-existent. The players now know what to expect from him. Without a doubt putting up big numbers on this defense will not be an easy task for the other 8 teams in the league.
Some news and notes from the first few days of camp: