Johnson: Stamps secondary has a good problem to have with Raymond back and Hefney hot
Coaching staff does have a conundrum, though, of where everyone will slot in against Saskatchewan on Friday
Stamps veteran Keon Raymond, centre, seen speaking with Jabari Arthur during training camp, has returned from an ankle injury. The problem is that his replacement Jonathan Hefney played so well in the Stamps opener that the question is where everyone will slot in.
Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald
Keon Raymond is not an avowed Freudian. He isn’t in the least interested in any of this id, ego or super-ego jazz.
You’ll never find his nose out of joint, his lower lip hanging mournfully down around his arches, his wounded pride as raw as the meat in a butcher’s window.
“Oh, no, man,” he’s joking, poker-faced. “You think I’m Brandon Browner or D.A. (Dwight Anderson)? Nawwwww ...” His face softens, smile widens. A playful wink.
“No, it’s fun. I think guys understand we have a good team aspect here. Whatever we can do to help the team win. I think that’s why I’ve been playing so many positions over the course of my six-year career.
“You have to be able to move around.
“Play where the team needs you, not where you want to be.
“He’s been an all-star in this league. He played well. Just having that type of depth at any position in our defensive backfield, guys that can play across the board makes us look ...,” — Raymond pauses on the next two words, drawing them out for emphasis — “ very ... good ... as a secondary.”
The wonky ankle healed sufficiently, the immensely-popular, wildly-versatile DB was back in full harness at McMahon Stadium on a blindingly bright Canada Day Monday, ready, willing and able to kick-start his 2013 season three days from now in Regina.
The thing of it is, Jonathan Hefney, who replaced Raymond at SAM linebacker for Friday’s season-opening pistol-whipping of the B.C. Lions, had himself an absolute blinder. The man was virtually . . . everywhere. Ten tackles. Enough energy to power the blinding banks of neon lights that set Times Square garishly ablaze on New Year’s Eve. All over the ball like George Foreman gnawing on a grilled chop.
The field, in fact, somehow didn’t seem long enough or wide enough to accommodate him on this night.
Which begs the question: How does Raymond’s return and Hefney’s sparkling debut shake things down at Mosaic (It’ll Always Be Taylor Field) Stadium?
“That’s why we practise this week,” replies defensive co-ordinator Rick Campbell. “To figure that all out.
“It’s better to have a lot of good football players around and some tough decisions to make. The good thing about guys like Keon and Hef, they can play multiple positions. They don’t have to be locked in at one spot. So we’ll figure out which group gives us the best chance.
“Good start for Hef. We gave him a crash course. He was back just one day and played. We had to spend a lot of time with him, making sure he was good to go, catch up to everyone else. And he did a good job.”
The luxury of being able to mix-’n-match, to shuttle folks around positionally and not miss a half-beat has become a hallmark of the Stampeder secondary.
“That’s what helped us be successful last year,” reminds head coach John Hufnagel. “We did have the flexibility of bringing people in to play different positions. Versatility was huge for us last year and I expect it to be again this year.”
Hefney’s attention-grabbing inaugural bow in red-and-white certainly merits a followup start.
But, so, where, exactly?
“Uh, I don’t know,” he confesses when asked. “Today’s Day 1. I’m just going out and practicing hard in the sun, we’ve got some heat, and I’m just going to see what happens this week.
“I just like to get out there on the field, man. When I’m on the field, I’m smiling, I’m happy. Once I get out there you see a different side of me. Not serious. I just enjoy the game, wherever I’m playing.”
Did he think he made enough of an impression to wedge his way into what had been a well-set secondary?
“Hopefully, but I’m a professional. I know how it goes. (Raymond) was hurt Week One. I just came in and filled in and hopefully I did good enough that I can still be on the field somewhere else.”
As a unit, the Stampeder defence did a superb job harassing Leos’ quarterback Travis Lulay, limiting the B.C. run yardage to 72, and keeping the points in check while Drew Tate, Jon Cornish and Co. were establishing an insurmountable cushion. The pre-season favourites to once more rule the West were good and truly beaten on Friday.
“We just had a mentality of what we were going to do, played our game, ran the coverages we wanted to run,” says Hefney. “And our offence kept us off the field. A lot. I mean, I’m not really used to it, but at the same time it’s good to have — see us running the ball down the field.
“You get enough rest and when you get on the field you can do what you want to do.”
For Keon Raymond, Friday can’t come soon enough. Wherever he finds himself lining up.
“I’m just excited to be back out there, flying around. You get excited to get a good sweat up. (The ankle) feels good. You know, I was a little skeptical leading into the past game Friday. I just didn’t want something to be nagging me. Hefney came in and played well and now I’m ready to get out there
“We may have one extra DB but if one guy gets hurt, you’ve got to shuffle, you’ve got to move it around. When you have a guy like Hefney, who’s experienced in this league, and me, I’m able to move around and not lose a beat, that puts us in a great position.”
Multiple great positions, as a matter of fact.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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