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2014 CFL Western Preview - Calgary Stampeders

From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

Calgary, AB (SportsNetwork.com) - They ended the 2013 regular season with the best overall record in the league, losing a total of just four games in 18 opportunities, and still the Calgary Stampeders were on the outside looking in when the Grey Cup Champion was being crowned.

The Stamps dropped just two of the last 11 games of the regular slate, but that last one stung quite a bit, a 26-7 setback to British Columbia.

By virtue of winning the Western Division, Calgary earned a bye through to the division finals, but it was smoked by Saskatchewan, the eventual title winner, in a 35-13 decision.

While the 2013 regular season was filled with many highs, the final weeks of the campaign proved to be quite painful for the Stampeders, and head coach/general manager John Hufnagel doesn't want to experience those feelings this time around.

Aside from the disappointing ending, Calgary had the best of both worlds last season as it ranked first in the league in scoring offense (30.5 ppg) and was second-best in holding opponents down (22.9 ppg), which is more than enough reason for Hufnagel and his crew to have high hopes heading into the 2014 campaign. However, there have been some changes on the roster that will certainly shake things up a bit.

After two years as a key contributor to the offense, quarterback Kevin Glenn was taken by the Ottawa RedBlacks in the 2013 CFL Expansion Draft and then traded to the British Columbia Lions, which means Drew Tate is now back in the hot seat for Calgary. Tate started the first two games of last season before suffering a muscle strain in his right forearm, leaving him on the sidelines for a couple of months. He returned late in the season and saw limited action.

The Stamps have been waiting for Tate to take control of the offense for the long term, but with injuries in each of the last three seasons it has been a very difficult transition. Joining Tate at the quarterback position are Bo Levi Mitchell and Bryant Moniz. Mitchell had his moments in 2013, posting a quarterback rating of 111.2, but that was in limited duty. If nothing else, Mitchell knows the system and has shown that he can operate it sufficiently.

As for Moniz, a gunslinger who thrived with a pass-happy University of Hawaii offense a few years back, he was just signed by the club a month ago, but thanks to his experience in Honolulu and with Georgia in the Arena Football League, the CFL might be a perfect landing spot for someone who enjoys throwing the ball.

The good news for that trio of quarterbacks is the presence of two top-flight slot backs in Marquay McDaniel and Nik Lewis. One of seven players to finish with at least 1,000 receiving yards a year ago, McDaniel turned 76 catches into eight touchdowns.

Lewis is coming off a disappointing season in which he caught just 32 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a broken fibula in August and being placed on the nine-game injury list. Prior to 2013 Lewis, who is one of the all-time leading receivers in CFL history with 768 grabs, had nine straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards, an accomplishment that will be tough to match moving forward.

Another huge positive for Calgary is the continued presence of running back Jon Cornish. After struggling for playing time in his first four years with the Stamps, Cornish has become one of the most productive players in the league, so much so that he was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2013, and the Most Outstanding Canadian the last two seasons. Cornish ran for a career-high 1,813 yards and 12 TDs, not to mention reeling in 42 passes for 344 yards and two more majors.

The defense for the Stamps will again take its cues from lineman Charleston Hughes. Despite missing a couple of games in 2013, Hughes still finished with a league-best 18 sacks and forced three fumbles. The West nominee for the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player, Hughes now has back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks, which means opponents should be giving him even more attention this season.

Having the best kicker in the league last year should not be overlooked either. Calgary brings back Rene Paredes who registered an astounding 213 points, 27 more than his closest competition. Very few kickers have shown the same level of accuracy as Paredes, but if there is ever a question, the Stamps have the luxury of falling back on punter Rob Maver who averaged 37.0 net yards per punt in 2013.

More than anything else, the transition at quarterback will tell the story of the Stampeders this season. If Tate can stay healthy and refrain from putting himself in harm's way, this could be the start of something good for Calgary, but there will still be plenty of moments where the youngsters continue to learn on the job.

FACTS & FIGURES: Division - West. 2013 record - 14-4. Playoff result: Lost, 35-13, to Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup Playoffs Finals. Stadium - McMahon Stadium. Capacity - 35,650. Colors - Red, white, and black.

06/23 11:22:10 ET


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