Everything fell together for the Stampeders in 2008, finishing up with the Grey Cup victory in Montreal. With the 2009 Grey Cup in Calgary, and not many key changes to worry about, the idea of being repeat champions wasn't a stretch.
As the 2009 season progressed, complacency, injuries, and trouble beating the Green and White made a lot of people wonder if they could do it.
It didn't take long into the season to wonder who was going to lead the team. Mike Labinjo came to camp seriously overweight and lost his spot to Justin Phillips.
In week four, a horse collar tackle ended the season for the 2008 top receiver, Ken-Yon Rambo. All year long, the Stampeders struggled to start a consistent offensive line with injuries to Jeff Pilon, Rob Lazeo, and Jesse Newman.
Plus, even though he surpassed the 1000 yard mark, it took Nik Lewis 17 games to get his first and only touchdown of the season.
With all the negatives, there were a lot of positives. Jermaine Copeland picked up where Rambo left off, leading the Stampeders in receiving.
Even though the offensive line was constantly changing, Joffrey Reynolds led the league in rushing for the second straight year.
All that being said, fans won't have to worry about unfulfilled expectations. So many fans have already lowered their expectations for the 2010 season.
The offensive line saw the biggest changes with Dimitri Tsoumpas heading to the NFL, and Jeff Pilon opting for retirement. Jesse Newman, Rob Lazeo, and Ben Archibald will be back, but there have been questions about their replacements. There are a few young draft picks and import free agents signings that could earn a spot, but that's not a comfortable place to be for Hank and Joffrey.
Experience was needed, so the Stamps signed John Comiskey in January to beef up the line before realizing his knee wouldn't hold up. Like Pilon, he decided to retire.
The questions arise with the experienced linemen that were signed, as both Dan Comiskey and Matt Sheridan were brought out of retirement after each having 18 months off of football.
While Sheridan is only 33 years old and has at least a few years left, Comiskey has probably only one or two years at most left in his career. These signings are clearly short term fixes, and with the time they took off to heal and train, both Sheridan and Comiskey should be good for at least this season. Hopefully they still have a step to go on their mean streaks.
Special teams will see some changes for the new season after Sandro Deangelis bolted to Hamilton for more money and to be closer to home. Sandro has been the elite of the league for five years, and although his skill at the position will be missed, apparently his attitude and personality won't be.
The question arises from the replacement for Deangelis. Kicker/Punter Rob Maver was drafted fifth overall by the Stampeders. Some have said Maver could be good, but his placekicking is somewhat suspect outside 40 yards. His punting is supposed to be his forte. This sounds an awful lot like Duncan O'Mahony to me. Although nothing could be as strange as that situation.
Warren Kean was brought in to compete, and Burke Dales is still the punter for now, so we have a couple options that can fill that role. Whatever the case, chances are the kicking game won't be as good this year.
The return game will see a complete overhaul this year after the release of Demetrius Summers and the retirement of Marcus Howell.
While I was a fan of Howell, and he will be missed, he had lost a step in the last few years, and a change was needed.
Summers was NOT the answer, as his speed was counteracted by his lack of cutting ability. A perfect return setup was needed for him to see any more than 20 yards.
The return game leaves a big question mark, but that is a place where some young speedster could come out of nowhere.
For those that thought getting rid of Titus Ryan was a mistake, you need to remember that Ryan's inability to catch or hold onto the ball was a huge problem, which led to the Stamps pulling the plug. Besides, I'll take Romby Bryant anyday over Titus Ryan.
For the first time in the last decade, the Stamps will be starting more than one of the same defensive linemen from the year before.
In fact, they're all the same. Charleston Hughes and Juwan Simpson are back at defensive end, DeVone Claybrooks, and Tearrius George are back at defensive tackle and Mike Labinjo has lost a good amount of weight that should help him get back to his winning ways of 2008.
The other area of the defense that remains solid and could be the best in the league is the defensive secondary. Brandon Browner and Dwight Anderson are back on the corners, and John Eubanks and Keon Raymond are back at the halfback position. Wes Lysack will probably split time with either 2010 draft pick Taurean Allen or 2009 draft pick Eric Fraser.
Lysack is still one of the best hitting at the safety position, and what he lacks in speed he makes up for in smarts and skill. I would lean towards Allen because of his speed, but Fraser could fill in nicely at halfback as well if needed.
The linebacking core took a beating in the off season with the releases of Shannon James, Dwain Carpenter, and Tim Johnson. An overhaul like this makes a lot of people worried, but the questions that come from the linebackers are answered from within the strengths of the other defensive positions.
Malik Jackson showed last year that he can play both defensive end and linebacker. He'll take a few steps back and will be a very capable linebacker. Jackson was a linebacker in college and shouldn't have any trouble stepping back into that role.
The other linebacker to change positions will be Milt Collins taking a few steps forward. Calgary lacked speed from the linebacker position, and it's my guess the Stamps hope Collins can bring some better cover skills while still being able to deliver a blow to opposing running backs if needed.
The Stampeder recently saw two receivers leave Calgary, with Jermaine Copeland leaving for Toronto and Brett Ralph deciding to call it a career. As much as I, and many others, loved these players, their departures will hardly be devastating.
Copeland had a great season last year in Calgary after a couple average seasons. Stats aside, Copeland has been the consummate professionalworking hard every game and practice and leading the team in many ways. Last year's stats were padded by the fact that Ken-Yon Rambo was injured for the season early on, and Calgary needed Copeland to be the go to guy. With Rambo back and healthy, Copeland wouldn't be getting the balls thrown his way enough to see the stats even close to last year.
PK Sam came to the Stampeders in return for Copeland in the trade, and while Toronto needed experience, Sam is six years younger and has a good solid career ahead of him after coming back from the NFL. At 6'3", Sam gives Henry Burris another big target to throw to. With Ken-Yon Rambo, Nik Lewis, and Romby Bryant, the import class of receivers should do mighty fine.
Brett Ralph will always be remembered as the little receiver that could. His nickname "7-11" was very fitting because he was always open. He was the guaranteed first down receiver all of his five year career, and he will be missed.
The Canadian receivers in Calgary this year aren't anything to scoff at, though.
Ryan Thelwell has always been a steady receiver that can break the big play if he needs to, and he has fully healed from his Achilles tear, so he'll be fine.
Arjei Franklin came to the Stamps from Winnipeg in the middle of the season last year, and had been very consistent for the Bombers. Like Ralph, Franklin makes up for his lack of size with good hands and good football sense.
Aside from that, the Stampeders are solid! Two time rushing leader Joffrey Reynolds comes back to try to make it three years in a row, and "Smilin' Hank" Henry Burris is back again to lead this offense. If either gets injured, it does open up questions, but they are the same question every team has if their quarterback or running back goes down.
Plus, don't forget about the rookies and NFL castaways that come into camp looking for a shot to make it in professional football. After all, that's what makes the CFL great.
When all is said and done, there were a lot of changes that have happened, but there are enough consistencies that will make this team very competitive, especially in the key areas of the offense and the defense. Even though there appears to be some questions, you can expect the Stampeders to be right in the hunt for the first place bye come November.
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