The only thing in Cowtown growing faster than the population is the burgeoning expectations for the Calgary Stampeders.
The local CFL club kicks off its 2008 training camp Sunday at McMahon Stadium and although the team hasn’t won a playoff game in the last three seasons, they once again are among the favourites to contend for the Grey Cup.
At the same time the talented club will have to answer multiple questions after making a number of off-season moves.
It’s an obvious focus for first-year head coach John Hufnagel.
“My message all year long to you, the players and the fans hasn’t changed,” Hufnagel said.
“What we want to accomplish in this training camp is to become a better football team and hopefully the competition we have during training camp will lead to that. We have many challenges ahead of us.”
Here are nine questions the Stampeders must answer this season:
1. Can Henry Burris win a Grey Cup? Since the quarterback came to town in 2005 the Stamps have had one of the most exciting offences in the CFL, an explosive trait that will have to continue in 2008.
2. Can Dave Dickenson thrive in his new role of backup? The addition of the veteran as Burris’ caddy is expected to make Smilin’ Hank’s grin even brighter but the former CFL most outstanding player needs to accept a diminished presence.
3. Will John Hufnagel live up to expectations as a head coach? The new boss won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2003 and a Grey Cup with Calgary in 1992, but Huffer hasn’t coached in the CFL in 12 years. That’s a long time to be removed from such a unique league.
4. How long will it take a rebuilt offensive line to gel? The retirement of 14-year veteran Jay McNeil, the trade of veteran John Comiskey and departure of free agent Garrick Jones will leave plenty of new faces to the offence’s engine.
5. Will new defensive coordinator Chris Jones be able to apply his style of pressure defence that made the Alouettes such a tough opponent? The Stamps surrendered a league-high 527 points in ’07 leaving plenty of room for improvement.
6. Can punter Burke Dales thrive now that his backup, Duncan O’Mahony, has been punted from the locker-room?
7. Who will emerge as the heart of the new defence? In the old 3-4 scheme the linebackers made the defence tick. Now Brian Clark, Scott Coe and Cornelius Anthony are all gone.
8. Have the Stamps found a reliable game-breaking wide receiver? Ken-Yon Rambo has been moved outside while newcomers Jessie Burton, Tyrone Calico and Chris Jackson all have speed to burn.
9. Can the Stampeders finally give hungry fans a Grey Cup championship? The “new regime” is entering its fourth season at the helm and fans are getting anxious for some results.