Calgary Stampeders inexperienced defence not to blame in opening loss
Talk of turnover dominated the off-season.
Especially among personnel on what had been a championship defensive unit for the Calgary Stampeders.
But after Saturday’s return to the CFL gridiron, the buzz was mostly about turnovers on the field.
There proved to be plenty — both ways — in the 32-28 season-opener loss suffered by the host Stampeders.
Four home-side interceptions helped overcome what was — at times — a spotty defensive scene put up by the Stamps over the Ottawa Redblacks before an announced crowd of 26,301 fans at McMahon Stadium.
But in the end, they weren’t enough to overcome their own critical turnovers — in particular, a fourth-quarter botched punt-shag by Lorenzo Jerome and a late interception on a throw to the endzone from 40 yards away.
“I thought our defence did enough — caused turnovers and scored,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson.
“Ultimately, I think they can be better. But I definitely think they did enough for us to win.”
It did, and that says a lot about a unit that’s been saddled with questions.
Indeed, the worry after a tumultuous off-season was how deeply massive roster turnover would affect the Grey Cup champions.
While there was much bluster over the flurry of personnel changes — with many pundits believing it would take down the reigning Grey Cup champions — the season-opener proved to be more about the big play defensively.
How’s this to counter-act worries about an inexperienced defence — at least for one game?
Four INTS — one resulting in a pick-six, two others setting up the Stampeders offence for immediate scoring plays and a clutch fourth-quarter one in a tight contest.
Middle linebacker Corey Greenwood nearly picked off another in the fourth that instead went off his fingers and into the hands of Redblacks receiver R.J. Harris ending up in a clutch conversion to keep a late drive alive.
And it looked like veteran Jamar Wall had come up with a key one late in the game to thwart a scoring drive, but the ball barely touched the floor before he came up with it.
They were oh-so close on the Greenwood and Wall near-misses to putting it away.
Still, they weren’t patting themselves on the back about it.
Grey Cup champs simply don’t like to lose.
“Yeah, we were able to get turnovers and put ourselves in good situations,” said Stamps veteran defensive back Brandon Smith, whose own 59-yard pick-six in the third quarter was the highlight of the defence’s night.
“But you’ve got to tip your hat to their defence. They were able to limit the amount of offence we were able to get. It was a battle of two defences, and they were able to edge out the win.
“We did get turnovers, but we did give up 100 yards of rushing, and we know it’s hard to win when you give up over 100 yards of rushing and 400 yards of offence,” Smith continued. “Although we took the ball away, we’ve just got to get better. They got a couple of big drives where they drove the field, and that can’t happen if we want to win games.”
OK, so it wasn’t a defensive gem.
But few expected this one to be as shiny of an effort from the defence as it was.
After all, starry names such as Alex Singleton, Micah Johnson, Ja’Gared Davis, Ciante Evans and Jameer Thurman have left Calgary.
Fresh faces stepped up Saturday night, though.
Defensive end Ivan McLennan had a first-half tackle for a loss.
Corner man Raheem Wilson provided blanket coverage on a second-quarter pass to the endzone and four tackles during the contest.
Middle linebacker Greenwood stepped up for a critical run stuff late in the fourth, as part of a nine-tackle night.
DaShaun Amos knocked away a would-be touchdown catch on the game-turning drive.
And Wynton McManis and Mike Rose had six and five tackles respectively.
It’s just it was Ottawa’s Rose — Jonathan Rose — who put the nail in the coffin. His turnover of Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell ended the game in favour of the visiting side.
He played the villain — again — in pulling down a pick in the endzone with Mitchell trying to find receiver Michael Klukas for a 40-yard winning touchdown.
A completion there and the defence is feeling much better about its overall performance.
Because a win will do that.
But this one’s a loss despite a pretty hardy effort from a defence that we all know needs time to grow into itself.
“We just got to reload,” Smith added. “We’re not pointing the fingers at anybody. We’re not getting down on ourselves.
“The ball just doesn’t always fall your way.”