New Jack City: Stamps’ offence flush with fresh faces

CFL.ca will be previewing the 2021 season, breaking down special teams, defence and offence for all nine teams as they get set to hit the field.

Bo Levi Mitchell has a cast of new faces around him and he’s welcoming the challenge of getting them on the same page this year (Photo: Stampeders.com)

It’s been a while since we last saw a Calgary Stampeders’ offence as young as the one we’ll see in 2021, but significant veteran departures also open the door for opportunity. That’s why many in Calgary have been locked in on an intriguing and competitive training camp thus far.

“I think what it’s going to feel like is, it’s going to feel like a kind of expansion team almost,” quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell told me prior to camp. “A first year for everybody: Come out here and earn your position, no guaranteed starting spots anywhere, come out here and compete. I think that’s going to be the feel and the mantra around our stadium and our team, really.”

Gone are Reggie Begelton and Eric Rogers, who combined for 20 touchdowns and more than 2,500 receiving yards in 2019. Fellow receiver Juwan Brescasin has also moved on, along with veteran running backs Don Jackson and Terry Williams. Stalwart offensive lineman Shane Bergman announced his retirement in January, while Nila Kasitati did the same earlier this month. That’s a lot to digest.

“It’s one of those teams that I’m actually super excited to coach,” said head coach Dave Dickenson when I spoke to him ahead of camp. “Not that I’m not excited to coach other teams, but we’re very young and fresh and new. Sometimes, you know, when the veterans have it kind of figured out, you’re kind of just managing personalities, managing reps, managing their bodies.

“Well now I really feel like we have to really get after these guys’ minds. We have to get them learning what we’re about. We claim to be a dynasty, a Stampeder Way, we do things right, we’ve got a certain way about us. Well, about 80 per cent of these guys don’t know anything about that. It’s on us and our veteran guys to make sure we instill what we think a winning formula is, the key ingredients, and what being a Stampeder is all about.”

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Young and promising

Despite so many impact players moving on, no one seems worried or anxious around McMahon Stadium. After all, Calgary’s track record for identifying and integrating new talent is hard to beat over the last decade. There’s a quiet confidence in those waiting in the wings.

Receiver Hergy Mayala leads the way in that regard. The former first round pick took a little time to find his stride as a rookie in 2019. When he did, though, Mayala exploded. In his final five regular season games, Mayala racked up five touchdowns and averaged more than 80 yards receiving per game.

“Once he figured it all out and I was able to use his skill set and Bo felt confident in him, then he really took off,” Dickenson said. “To me he’s got room to grow…whatever you saw, I think there’s a lot more there. We would like to use that and hopefully see that in 2021.”

Mayala isn’t the only young receiver to keep an eye on, either. Josh Huff, Andres Salgado, and Colton Hunchak all enter their second year, while this will be Year 3 for Markeith Ambles. They’re all players Mitchell is excited to work with in 2021.

“(Huff) is the kind of guy that we’ve had in the past that maybe we were missing at times in the offence last year when he wasn’t playing,” the QB said. “He’s a guy that you can throw a five-yard pass to and he can turn it into a touchdown. He’s got…the ability to make a play when maybe the play isn’t there.

“I’ve got a bevy of receivers here that I’m looking forward to getting out there. Ambles is another consistent guy. Salgado, I know people think, ‘Oh, it’s just a Global position.’ That dude has been working. He looks good, his hands are strong and he showed a lot of big things in training camp and practice last season. Hunchak is a guy I’ve been working with a lot just one-on-one.”

At running back, don’t sleep on sophomore Ka’Deem Carey. Yes, Jackson and Williams are elsewhere now, but it was Carey who had seemingly won the starter’s job prior to breaking his arm in September, 2019. Carey was averaging 5.6 yards a carry prior to the injury and looks poised to start the season on top of the depth chart.

Experience matters

Even with a young roster, there’s one important constant the Stampeders are ready to lean on in 2021: Their quarterback. Mitchell enters his seventh year as Calgary’s starter and the two-time Most Outstanding Player is excited to take on an even bigger leadership role.

“We want to make sure we get the process of what the Calgary Stampeder Way is across to all these young guys and new guys that have maybe come from other teams,” Mitchell said when assessing a different looking offence.

“Setting the tone at times when it comes to what we expect. But at the same time, not getting overly pissed off at, you know, a first-year guy that’s never played Canadian football and he doesn’t see something the same way I do. I think there’s going to be a learning curve there.

“(But) we can’t make the excuse that there’s a lot of young guys. This is our team, this is who we have, and we have to trust in our coaches and our scouts for who they brought in and that they’ve put together the best possible team.”

With Mitchell and an offensive line returning key veterans from 2019, the Stamps have experience to rely on. Local product Sean McEwen joins a group that also features returnees Ryan Sceviour and Ucambre Williams.

If the idea of Kamar Jorden is one that’s slipped to the backs of people’s minds, that’s fine by Bo Levi Mitchell, who has a ton of confidence in his top target (Photo: Stampeders.com)

And then there’s the potential forgotten man: Receiver Kamar Jorden. You can’t really be blamed if Jorden isn’t at the front of your mind, either. We’re talking about a guy who has played one game in almost three years: Calgary’s West Division Semi-Final loss to Winnipeg in 2019.

Jorden sustained a serious knee injury on Labour Day 2018, which was devastating knowing how well he was playing at the time. In the three games prior, Jorden had three touchdowns and was averaging 167 receiving yards per game.

“I’m glad he has been forgotten,” Mitchell joked. “Hopefully that means people relax in coverage around him a little bit more.

“Before he took that injury in 2018, he was leading the league in receiving. They were putting double coverage on the guy trying to figure things out. I know he got to come back really, really late for the playoff game in 2019. But I think me and him would both agree it didn’t go the way we wanted to with our personal connection on the field. We’ve been building that back here in the off-season and it’s something that I’m looking forward to relying on very heavily when it comes to the regular season.”

We’re not used to seeing young, relatively inexperienced offences in Calgary. But with Mitchell and a seasoned offensive line still in the fold, there’s plenty of reason to believe youth and opportunity will translate into positive results on the field in 2021.

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