Stamps hogs coming into their own
Boss Forzani has his eye on their progress and likes what he sees
Of course, he’s watching for his nephew, speedy receiver Johnny Forzani.
But based on where he usually stations himself — at the scoreboard end, at the back of the end zone — he’s also checking out the players he knows best. Not personally, necessarily, but what makes them effective contributors on a football field.
Forzani, of course, once toiled in the offensive-line trenches for the Stampeders, so when the current crop of hoggies go through their daily drills in the end zone in front of him, he’s watching with an experienced eye. Not as an investor. Not as an executive. But as a peer.
And with the practised eye of someone who worked at the craft of being a better offensive lineman through seven professional seasons, Forzani likes both what he sees now and what he sees for the future.
“When you’re a young offensive lineman, there are so many subtle things you have to look out for,” said Forzani as a biting cold wind carved through McMahon Stadium. “It’s very difficult for a youngster to step in and become starter; it’s one of these things you have to pick up over time. An inch on a person’s body can make all the difference in the world, and it takes a lot of time to learn that. But it’s a real tribute to the coaching staff. I really like our offensive line. We’re in a really good position, and I think they’re only going to get better.”
A true test of where the Stamps’ O-line is today, and how far it’s come in a relatively short period of time, will be provided on Saturday night at BC Place Stadium when the 8-5 Stampeders take on the West Division-leading B.C. Lions (9-4) in a game that will go a long ways in determining who hosts the West Division final on Nov. 18.
You may remember the last time the Stamps and Lions hooked up, back on July 28 at McMahon Stadium when the visitors dominated the line of scrimmage in a 34-8 win that saw the Stampeders rush for just 29 yards — which would have been 30 yards had Jon Cornish not rushed for minus-one yard.
In the ensuing eight games, no team in the CFL has rushed for more yards than the Stampeders’ 1,264 (an average of 158 per game), and it’s not even close. Next best is B.C. at 989 yards.
Yes, Cornish’s brilliance has had much to do with it. But if the men up front aren’t opening those holes, Cornish is going nowhere.
“They’re a good bunch,” nodded offensive line coach Mike Gibson. “We still have miles to go and I think we can get a lot better. But their developing into a solid unit. This will be a good test for us, because we’re playing a good defence this week. We’ll see what we’re all about. But they like to be challenged, they like to compete, and they feel good about one another. With that, I think we have a chance.”
Football players are taught early on to look forward, not behind, so it’s only with some prodding that memories of that miserable July evening are brought back. Nothing specific, of course. Just an overall sense of being outplayed.
“Uh, yeah — it was pretty bad,” agreed Stamps centre Jon Gott. “I think it was just a combination of everything. I don’t think we came out with the right mindset. To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember most of the game. I just know it was a bad, bad game. As a group, that was probably the worst game we’ve ever played.”
The key since then has been continuity. The quintet of left tackle Stanley Bryant, left guard Spencer Wilson, Gott, right guard Dimitri Tsoumpas and right tackle J’Micheal Deane had started six straight games together before Edwin Harrison came back to replace Bryant on Friday against Edmonton.
Now, with Harrison re-injuring his knee, Bryant will return, although based on Tuesday’s practice, he could be shifted to right tackle, with Deane moving to left guard and Wilson, the Henry Wise Wood High School grad, taking the not-insignificant responsibility of left tackle, protecting the blind side of quarterback Kevin Glenn.
“If it comes to pass, I think we’ll be able to handle it,” said Deane. “Having the changes we had that last game (against B.C.) with some injuries — I had to play tackle for the first time in a year and half. Everyone’s head was jumbled, and maybe there was some confusion, who knows? But it’s in the past. We’re just looking forward to this game.”
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