GM Dickenson busy filling roster holes, 'excited' for Stampeders in 2024

Off-season business includes finding new QB coach, attracting new blood

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Dave Dickenson is excited to have flipped the calendar to 2024.

For the Calgary Stampeders general manager/head coach, turning the page represents a leave-behind of last year and its losing ways as well as a look ahead to a fresh start for his Canadian Football League club.

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And that’s positive stuff for the ever-positive leader.

“I’m excited to see where the new season takes us, because last year was very difficult,” said Dickenson on Monday morning from the 2024 CFL Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. “We just couldn’t find our footing. It just never seemed to go our way.

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“I think there’s always optimism from every team, and I am certainly myself optimistic,” continued the eighth-year sideline boss and second-year GM. “I’m ready to get ’24 going and see if we can get this bad taste out of our mouth and see if we can get back to playing football like we want to play.”

That bad taste, of course, stems from a rickety 2023 campaign that saw the Stampeders finish with a 6-12 record and a first-round exit — at the hands of the BC Lions — in the playoffs.

Arguably, the best part of the year came during the stretch run, with the Stamps winning two of their final three regular-season games to steal away a post-season spot from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

They then fell to the Lions 41-30 in the West Division semi-final, as quarterback Vernon Adams held quite the hot hand in delivering a victory for the West Coast hosts.

“I don’t feel like we had a great finish,” debated Dickenson. “But we battled all year. We really did. Our guys showed up to play every single week. We just couldn’t find ways to win consistently. We just weren’t a team that could put back-to-back-to-back wins together.”

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With that, Dickenson has his work cut out for him in prepping for 2024.

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It begins with the GM in him trying to give the coach in him the right personnel for a more competitive club.

Talk Monday started with the key position of quarterback, where Jake Maier is still considered the go-to guy.

“The year is young, and we’re looking everywhere,” Dickenson said. “But happy that we’ve been in contact quite a bit with Jake this off-season in identifying some things as a staff and as an offensive unit that we need to better at and just trying to communicate that with Jake and making sure that he’s at his best.

“As always, I’m confident with Jake and feel like he’s going to improve and make us better.”

That said, Maier and the Stamps are currently without a quarterbacks coach, having lost Marc Mueller — the guy with that gig the last four years — to the Roughriders in the off-season. Mueller left to join Corey Mace — another former Stamps coach under Dickenson — after he was named the head coach in Regina in late November.

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With these winter meetings being held during the American Football Coaches Association Convention — where league team personnel share information about playing opportunities in the CFL — Dickenson feels he’s amid plenty of quality candidates to take over the QB coach’s role.

“One of the positives down here in Nashville is meeting a lot of good people,” Dickenson said. “I’m diving in deep here in the next probably two weeks. I’m meeting a lot of good coaches and also some coaches maybe getting tired of the rat race down here in the NCAA. It’s challenging right now — a lot of things going on down here.

“I hope to have somebody in place in the next two weeks.”

Jake Maier
Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier throws a pass during CFL preseason action against the Edmonton Elks at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Monday, May 22, 2023. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

Beyond that, Dickenson has a player personnel roster to fill, after close to 40 of last year’s Stampeders became free agents following the season.

Since then, veteran kicker René Paredes has re-signed, as have key defensive linemen Mike Rose — an all-star interior guy — and James Vaughters — a sack-master extraordinaire.

Others having re-upped with the Red and White are QB Tommy Stevens, offensive linemen Bryce Bell and DJ Coker and defensive back Malcolm Thompson.

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It’s a positive start for the GM’s difficult job at hand.

“I thought we did a good job with our injury situation we had last year and with the challenges of bringing in players,” Dickenson said. “I liked our roster composition. We were able to fill some holes. The guys we signed did well — some got hurt — but some made us competitive.

“It was just one of those years that it was challenging in that the injuries forced us to keep looking for more blood, and the new players weren’t really available.”

Rene Paredes
Veteran kicker Rene Paredes will return to the Calgary Stampeders for the 2024 season. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia file

He’s hopeful, however, that changes this year, especially with the news south of the border in the football world.

Late last month came the unveiling of the United Football League, merging two previous circuits — the XFL and the United States Football League — into one, which will begin play in March.

With that uniting comes fewer teams — just eight total, which is down from the eight each of the previous leagues boasted — leaving more footballers on the search for jobs.

“I think with the one league down south, it’s going to open up a lot of players for us to potentially bring up,” Dickenson said. “With them going from two leagues to one, maybe the players down there are saying, ‘Canada’s a pretty stable, good league. There’s some good football up there.’ They might actually want to play with us over the UFL.

“I think we’ll have a better chance to bring in some guys that are capable of being CFL all-stars. That, to me, is exciting.

“And hopefully that makes the GM job a little easier.”

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X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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