Stampeders giving veterans more pre-season playing time with hopes of better start to campaign

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Dave Dickenson has switched things up a bit this year.

After the way the Calgary Stampeders started last season, their GM/head coach didn’t have much choice.

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Starting seasons slowly has, unfortunately, become something of a feature for the Stamps in recent years and something had to change.

That means more playing time for veterans in the Stamps’ two pre-season games, including on Saturday (2 p.m.) against the visiting B.C. Lions. It means more of an emphasis on building chemistry among presumed starters.

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“I’ve redone training camp to, unfortunately, maybe not be able to evaluate the young guys as much,” Dickenson said this week at McMahon Stadium. “I’m not going to worry too much in pre-season Week 1 or 2 and saying, ‘you’re going to play one or the other,’ but I do want, if you’re a starter, I want you to be ready to play between two and four quarters of the pre-season.

“Hopefully, that creates the chemistry we want.”

While this is purely anecdotal and there are no stats — In the CFL? Imagine that! — to quantify it, it’s generally seemed like the Stamps have been less inclined to play established starters for lengthy stretches during pre-seasons when compared to their rivals.

And it’s pretty easy to understand why. You want to get a good look at how rookies are adapting to the big field and the intricacies of the Canadian game, and seeing them in game action is vital.

But that approach has also led to some stinkers in recent years. In their last seven season openers, the Stamps have won twice while tying once and losing four times.

Last year in Week 1, they looked completely disjointed and out of sorts against the Lions, who had given big minutes to their starters in a pre-season meeting a week earlier while the Stamps had mostly gone with youngsters.

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‘We’re jumping out the gate’

The Stamps lost that game 25-15 and while they managed to recover, sort of, and sneak into the playoffs last year, there’s a real sense that they can’t afford to start slow this year.

The fact that there’s a very real chance they’ll be facing franchise icon quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in Week 1 when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is a fun sub-plot we’ll all be unpacking eventually. But there’s a lot more at stake here.

And that’s why Dickenson and his staff put so much work into formulating a plan that would help the team come out firing to start the regular season.

“I don’t think Dicky hides that,” said Stamps receiver Marken Michel. “He lets it be known that we’re coming out of the gate running. He lets that be known every single team meeting that we have. We’re not easing into this thing, we’re jumping out the gate like a bat out of hell and I think for us as a collective, as a team, we agree.

“We’ve got to get that momentum going because we have a bye week early in the year so we need to get momentum going into that bye-week and get things rolling in the right direction.”

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To Michel’s point, the Stamps do have a bye in Week 3, so there will be an opportunity to rest and reset.

But otherwise, their first six games are an absolute gauntlet. They face a Lions team with Grey Cup aspirations twice, as well as last year’s champion, the Montreal Alouettes. They’ve also got two games against Winnipeg in that stretch, and while anyone not wearing blue and gold glasses is expecting a regression from the Blue Bombers this year, they still won’t be an easy out.

So if the Stamps are behind the 8-ball to start the campaign, it could get ugly — and fast.

With that in mind, Dickenson’s tried to adjust pre-season preparations.

And by all accounts, he’s got full buy-in from his veterans.

“I came here to play football, no matter if it’s the pre-season or going into the season,” said receiver Reggie Begelton. “I like to get my reps, as well, and it shows the younger guys that we are here to win.”

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