Johnson: Stamps’ offence poised to finish atop CFL
Dickenson has master-minded the league’s most balanced attack
The possibility does not consume Dave Dickenson’s every waking moment nor keep him up nights, pacing the floorboards, plotting.
No one, he knows, is handing out any shiny silver trophies for the distinction. Doesn’t come with any sort of nifty bonus in the next pay packet.
But the old quarterback in him, the red-zone-means-end-zone mentality that made him among the best of a generation, wants it anyhow.
“To me,” says the Calgary Stampeders’ offensive co-ordinator, “the biggest stat is points. I believe that. You don’t win games without points.
“Points are IMPORTANT.
“So, yeah, I’d like to finish on top. It’s not a goal we set out for ourselves at the start of training camp or anything, but I like to finish No. 1. Some people might say ‘Ah, so what ...’ I’m not one of those people.
“You want to finish first in any category, right?”
Sure, they’re still too footloose and fancy free with the football, but one game from the close of the 2012 regular season, the Calgary Stampeders, at 505, lead the Canadian Football League points race. Only the near-death, 6-10 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, at 498, are close.
They’ve worked through a seismic cultural shift at the quarterback and tailback positions and lost their anointed saviour only five quarters into the season. Hung in as a revolving offensive line, developed and endured more cast change at the receiving position than the coast-to-coast touring company of Cats.
Be that as it may, they nevertheless boast the league’s No. 1 rusher, Jon Cornish, and No. 2 receiver, Nik Lewis. Rank second in TDs scored with 48, two behind the Als, and trail only the Leos in first downs (372, as opposed to 394), net yards (6,371 in comparison to 6,641) and are tied for first in passing percentage (66.7).
Before the July 29th, virtually all smart money to set the heavens ablaze was being dropped on reigning Most Outstanding Player Travis Lulay and the B.C. attack or the evergreen A.C., Anthony Calvillo, and his stash of weapons of mass destruction out east in la belle province.
The Stamps? Too much upheaval. Too much uncertainty.
Yet here we are.
“I feel like have the best balance in the league,” says Dickenson. “We had the one poor, poor game against B.C., but otherwise essentially I feel our guys have been pretty consistent. Other than that one game we’ve shown up and played well, played hard, given ourselves a chance to win.
“Where we needed to improve on was YAC (yards after catch) yardage. We’re getting more of that now. We were looking for some better downfield blocking, a few more big plays.
“The other area we need to improve on is ball security and we’re not getting that yet. That’s really been our Achilles heel. If we take better care of the ball not only are we going to win more games, we’ll get shorter fields when we do get the ball back.”
While those 505 points may be pace-setting here and now in 2012, they utterly pale in comparison with the Henry Burris-orchestrated 2010 group that torched teams for 626.
“That year,” says Lewis wistfully, “was one of those Dream Team-type things. A freak of nature. Three receivers over 1,100 yards. Joffrey (Reynolds) had, what?, 1,200 yards rushing. Cornish near 700. Hank, 490-something. Romby (Bryan) and (Ken-Yon) Rambo caught a lot of balls downfield. Romby had 16 touchdowns.
“This year, we’re not as explosive as back then, obviously. But we’ve controlled the ball pretty well, the majority of games we’ve won time of possession. Maybe we’ve come away with 3s when we should’ve had 7s a few too many times, but does it surprise me that we’re No. 1 in points? No. When I look at the type of players we have here and the way a lot of guys have stepped in and stepped up, no, not at all.”
For quarterback Kevin Glenn, the communal feeling instilled, the belief that each individual in the offence is of value, regardless of status on the depth chart, is what’s made this enforced mix-n-match approach so successful.
“Dave and all the coaches do a very good job of incorporating everyone, where as a player you have to stay involved. They put a lot of onus on everybody in the offence. You always have a duty, a job. You may be considered the backside route, but you still have to run that route to the best of your ability in case something happens frontside.
“So when you’re asked to step in and play, or play a bigger role, it’s not a shock to be counted on.
“In all my years in this league, I’ve never been part of a team that had so many guys get off the plane, get off the bus, get off the practice roster or get off injured reserve and play well.”
The payoff is there for all to see. Cornish stands on the brink of history. Lewis has snared 100 passes. Glenn, at 33. has resurrected his career. The offensive line, cemented together by Dimitri Tsoumpas, has knitted together.
And the proof is in those league-leading 505 points.
“This group,” says Dave Dickenson, “has been as fun as any group I’ve worked with. Every week a different guy steps in. I would like to know how many times we’ve had the same lineup.
“We’ve had so many different cars veer off the tracks, but the train, man, it just keeps rolling.
“Obviously I’m happy with the work the players have put in, the coaches have put in. So when you have a chance to score more points than anyone else, go for it. Like I said before, points are important.
“I mean, someone’s got to finish No. 1.
“Why not us?”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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