Calgary Stampeders get on with season prep while waiting for the smoke to clear

·4 min read

CALGARY — Smoke in the air threw a wrench into the early days of Calgary Stampeders' training camp, but there were still jobs to be earned and important pre-season reps to accomplish.

"When it comes down to it, stuff has to get done," defensive end James Vaughters said Friday. "It isn't always convenient."

Monday's pre-season home game against the Edmonton Elks was still on as of Friday, but a pre-game fan festival was rescheduled to June 24 in hopes of clearer skies.

"We are closely monitoring the fluctuating air quality caused by wildfire smoke in and around Calgary," the Stampeders said Friday in a statement.

"We will continue to work closely with the Canadian Football League and the league's meteorologists to monitor the situation."

With Calgary's air quality risk tabbed at moderate by Environment Canada, the Stampeders were on McMahon Stadium's turf Friday morning after three days of disruption.

Smoke from forest fires in northern Alberta has engulfed the province.

Murky, yellow sky drove the Stampeders into an indoor facility Tuesday, and kept the players off the field entirely Wednesday when the team couldn't access one.

Thursday morning's session was delayed to the afternoon until air quality improved.

"We're not going to dwell too much on what we missed," Stampeder head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said.

"We're confident we can get enough in. I always feel like I'm going to miss a day or two . It used to rain a lot in May. Doesn't seem to be that way anymore."

As of last season, the Stampeders have access to an inflatable dome in late fall and thus get refuge from snowstorms. That dome is deflated in summer, however.

Quarterback Jake Maier is working his first Stampeder training camp as the undisputed starter with the departure of Bo Levi Mitchell for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Receivers, middle linebacker and "probably backup quarterback" are areas training camp must address, Dickenson said.

"There's other competitions on the offensive line, but we have vets there," the coach said. "Doesn't mean rookies can't go take the job."

Kamar Jorden not re-signed, Richie Sindani's departure for the Tiger-Cats and Jalen Philpot absent from training camp with injury creates job opportunity at receiver.

Among hopefuls are six-foot-seven Simon Fraser product Rysen John.

Jameer Thurman signing with Hamilton left a gaping hole at middle linebacker.

Silas Stewart, Shaq Smith, Lino Schroter and veteran off-season signing Micah Awe are possible options there.

Calgary's backup quarterback Tommy Stevens scored nine rushing touchdowns and ran for almost 300 yards last season, but the Stampeders need to see what his arm can do given last season's small sample size.

Utah State's Logan Bonner and UNC Charlotte's Chris Reynolds are both pivots fresh out of college, however, with no previous pro experience.

Vaughters, 29, won a Grey Cup with the Stampeders in 2018 and has returned to the football club after an NFL stint.

His reacquisition and the signing of East Division all-star defensive end Julian Howsare were designed to replace the quarterback pressure that left with Shawn Lemon and Folarin Orimolade in free agency.

"I believe in my ability. I expect to pressure the quarterback," Vaughters said. "If the club believes in my ability, we both have the same expectations."

Two of Calgary's four new coaches this season are former longtime Stampeders: Nik Lewis (receivers) and Juwan Simpson (defensive line). Both won Grey Cups with Calgary in 2008 and 2014.

Former Simon Fraser University quarterback J.R. Davies (running backs) and former Manitoba Bisons quarterback Des Catellier (quality control) are the other two additions.

"I've actually got four new coaches this year and that's probably a little too many. You'd like to have more continuity on that," Dickenson said.

"I do think, honestly, we've got to learn to work together as a staff. What's your role? Where is your voice needed? What players are you dealing with and what can you add to them?

"So far, I've really enjoyed all four of my new guys getting involved, but also finding their way."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press