The uncertainty around the 2020 CFL season has been a curse and boon for Marquay McDaniel.
The COVID-19 outbreak has delayed the start of McDaniel’s first year as the Calgary Stampeders’ receivers coach. If the CFL does have an abbreviated ’20 campaign, it won’t start until September, at the earliest, but a cancelled season also remains an option.
But the uncertainty has given McDaniel time to become re-acclimated with Calgary’s offence — he spent parts of seven seasons as a receiver with the Stampeders. He’s also been able to evaluate his receiving corps.
“I’ve always been the kind that rolled with the punches,” McDaniel said Monday during a videoconference. “For me, I’d love to be on the field with the players, I think that’s where I can make my mark with them.
“But at the same time I’m getting more time going over the details of the offence, watching more film and evaluating these guys. I’m just doing what we have to do here.”
McDaniel, 36, played 10 CFL seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2009-11, 2018) and Calgary (2011-17). The five-foot-10, 208-pound receiver had 562 career catches for 7,366 yards and 37 TDs in 134 regular-season contests.
McDaniel’s most productive seasons — he surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in 2013, 2015-16 — were with Calgary. And he won his lone Grey Cup with the Stampeders (2014).
McDaniel retired after the ’17 season and served as a guest coach with Calgary during training camp in 2018. The native of Virginia Beach, Va., become a receivers coach at McMaster University that year but juggled those duties with playing as he joined Hamilton’s practice roster, then played in four games (eight catches, 65 yards).
McDaniel served as an offensive assistant coach with Montreal last season before returning to Calgary and joining head coach Dave Dickenson’s staff.
“I’m familiar with a lot of the coaches and some of the players were here when I played,” McDaniel said. “I’m definitely familiar with how things are run and being familiar with the system was a big thing.
“Calgary has always felt like a second home to me and so any time I come back here it always feels good.”
McDaniel will oversee a receiving corps that will be minus standout Reggie Begelton (102 catches, 1,444 yards, 10 TDs), who’s now with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. But McDaniel is hopeful veteran Kamar Jorden can regain the form he had in 2018 before suffering a serious knee injury.
The six-foot-three, 205-pound Jorden was second in CFL receiving with 55 catches for 944 yards and six TDs before being hurt. Jorden appeared in just one game last year — Calgary’s West Division semifinal loss to Winnipeg — registering two catches for 15 yards.
“Talking to him around the time I came back to Calgary, he (Jorden) said he was feeling good,” McDaniel said. “Seeing him outside run some wheel routes, it looked like he was pretty much back to normal or close to it.
“That’s one thing about Calgary, it seems like when someone leaves someone just comes back and fills that spot. That’s how it’s been, talent is always going to be here.”
Eric Rogers (85 catches, 1,080 yards, 10 TDs) was Calgary’s second-leading receiver last year. But the Stampeders also had plenty of youth with rookies Hergy Mayala (’19 first-round draft pick who had 38 receptions for 562 yards and five touchdowns) and Josh Huff (37 catches, 491 yards, one TD) and sophomore Markeith Ambles (35 catches, 407 yards).
Calgary selected receivers Trivel Pinto (UBC) and Tyson Middleton (McMaster) in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, in this year’s CFL draft. The Stampeders also took Simon Fraser’s Rysen John in the third round, but he signed a free-agent deal with the NFL’s New York Giants.
“There are guys who maybe didn’t play much last year that can gain some experience,” McDaniel said. “To me, that’s the big thing about pro football, the more experience guys can get.
“Injuries are going to happen, right? You just got to have guys who are ready to plug in.”
But if there’s a constant in Calgary’s offence it’s veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. The 30-year-old native of Katy, Texas, has not only been the MVP of two Stampeders Grey Cup victories (2014, 2018) but twice been named the CFL’s outstanding player (2016, ’18).
After missing seven games to injury in 2019, Mitchell had off-season shoulder surgery. Last week, Mitchell told reporters had the 2020 campaign started on time, he believed he would’ve been ready for Calgary’s opener.
“Oh man, that’s big,” McDaniel said of having Mitchell. “I know he had some injuries last year and hopefully everything is good with him.
“Bo being under centre makes everything better.”
Life as an assistant football coach is anything but glamorous. Not only are the hours considerably longer — CFL teams have their players for 4.5 hours daily during the season — but McDaniel has had to change his approach to the game.
“I always tell people playing was kind of like checkers, I make a move, the defender makes a move,” McDaniel said. “As a coach, it’s almost like chess, you’ve got to see what the defence is doing and then try to make a move or counter their move.
“From a coaching standpoint you just have to see the big picture and know how to attack a defence.”