Calgary entertains Montreal in 2014 season opener
Calgary, AB (Sports Network) - After months of speculation, the Calgary Stampeders finally know who will be their starting quarterback when they take on the Montreal Alouettes in the 2014 season opener on Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.
Head coach and general manager John Hufnagel made the decision on Monday to pencil in quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell at the top of his depth chart, although Hufnagel is less concerned with who starts than he is with which of his three signal-callers (Drew Tate and Bryant Moniz being the others) makes the most positive impact.
Moniz, a gunslinger from Hawaii who is new to the CFL, could factor in somewhere down the line, but for now it will be Mitchell and Tate who will be asked to shoulder the load on offense.
Aside from a 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 leaves Mitchell as the starter to kick off the new season. 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.
The good news for Calgary 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.
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 last year.
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 time around.
As for the Als, they are entering uncharted waters with regard to their offense. Dating back to 1998, Montreal always knew that Anthony Calvillo would be the man of record on the field. One of the most outstanding quarterbacks in the history of the game, the three-time CFL Most Outstanding Player set career marks for passing yards (79,816), touchdowns (455) and completions (5,892), along with a litany of other chart-topping numbers, before announcing his retirement in January.
At some point the ride had to end for Calvillo, but many hoped he would give it once last go-around after suffering a season-ending injury in 2013. Unfortunately, that isn't the case and it means the Als, who made the playoffs with a record of only 8-10 before bowing to Hamilton by a mere three points (19-16) in the East Division Semifinals last year, are now in search of a suitable successor.
The biggest name at that position currently is former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith from Ohio State. Smith, who bounced around the NFL and even made a stop in Omaha with the UFL's Nighthawks, signed on with Montreal last season and in getting his feet wet, threw for 884 yards and nine touchdowns, but finished with a rating of only 86.3.
Fellow quarterback Alex Brink last saw game action with Winnipeg in 2012 and while he threw for eight touchdowns that season and ran for another seven, he wa for the Tiger-Cats after they finished with a minus-13 in the turnover department. The squad logged just 14 interceptions, second-fewest behind only a hapless Winnipeg group, which they turned into a league-low 142 return yards. Hamilton was also last in the CFL in sacks with just 35.
Stretching back to 1961 and focusing only on games that took place during the regular season, Saskatchewan holds a slight advantage in the series with the Cats at 42-38-4. The Riders have taken four of the last five and a startling 17 of the last 20 matchups with Hamilton.
06/25 11:00:52 ET