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CFL Camp Countdown: Stampeders will rely on their Canadian content this season

Andrew Bucholtz
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John Hufnagel has assembled a solid collection of Canadian talent in Calgary.

Continuing our CFL Camp Countdown series of training-camp previews, here's a look at the Calgary Stampeders based off of Thursday's conference call with coach and general manager John Hufnagel.

Much of the discussion on the call was about the Stampeders' decision to move forward with 27-year-old quarterback Drew Tate as their starter and trade Henry Burris to Hamilton, and we'll get to that, but there's another interesting element with the Stampeders that's worth covering; namely, their Canadian content. Calgary has perhaps the league's most prominent non-import running back in Jon Cornish, several outstanding linemen like J'Michael Deane and Dmitri Tsoumpas, the only Canadian quarterback currently on a CFL roster in Brad Sinopoli, and several intriguing draft selections from this year, including defensive end Ameet Pall and defensive back Keenan MacDougall. Hufnagel said the team's very happy with the Canadian talent they've accumulated over the past seasons, and he cites the effort they put into draft preparation as the reason for their success.

"We do a tremendous amount of work involving the CFL draft," Hufnagel said. "We try to draft as most teams do, with the team's need being a big part of that situation. We have gotten some good players in the last few years."

— Normally, drafting for need is a bit of a concerning strategy, as it can allow you to miss out on some top talent if you don't currently have the appropriate positional vacancy. However, this is a little different in the CFL; the ratio rules mandate a certain amount of Canadians, so if you focus on developing Canadian depth at a few positions, then you're in good shape even if your starters get hurt. This strategy also means you focus on picking guys you're likely to have a roster spot for rather than intriguing prospects who might go nowhere.Moreover, the Stampeders clearly don't draft only based on need, or they wouldn't have taken Cornish back in the second round of the 2006 draft; few teams were thinking of using Canadian tailbacks then, and Calgary appeared set at running back with Joffrey Reynolds. Instead, they recognized Cornish's talent, allowed him to slowly develop on special teams and worked him into the offence, and he rewarded them with an outstanding ratio-changing performance.

— Deane is another interesting player who, like Cornish, the Stampeders drafted heading into his final year of NCAA eligibility. After finishing up at Michigan State, he signed with the team last year and proved incredibly valuable. Deane's an offensive lineman, but he contributed on the defensive line as well in 2011 thanks to injuries, and Hufnagel said he played well at defensive tackle.

"It's not foreign to him," Hufnagel said.

— Still, Hufnagel expects Deane to be in a more typical position this year.

"I think J'Michael Deane's true position is the offensive line," Hufnagel said. "I'm excited for him to see what he can do in this training camp."

— Another player worth watching in training camp is MacDougall, the Saskatchewan Huskies' defensive back who the Stampeders took in the second round this year despite him missing the entire 2011 CIS season through injury. Hufnagel said MacDougall's performance at the CFL's E-Camp combine was a crucial part of the decision to draft him.

"First, it was what he did at the combine with his ability, his speed, his athleticism," Hufnagel said, adding that they also looked at tapes of MacDougall's 2010 game film.

Hufnagel said MacDougall's special-teams abilities further endeared him to the team.

"He's an excellent special-teams player."

Hufnagel said MacDougall could be a great fit for the Stampeders given their ratio situation.

"We're trying to play a Canadian in the safety position," Hufnagel said. "I truly believe if he's healthy, he'll make an impact on our football team."

— One of the Stamps' Canadians has had plenty written about him, but hasn't yet recorded a CFL statistic. That would be quarterback Brad Sinopoli, who was drafted last year and managed to stick on the Calgary roster last season as a third-stringer. Ratio rules don't help Sinopoli, though, and Hufnagel said he doesn't have a sure job.

"Every player that comes to training camp is threatened," Hufnagel said. "That's why you work so hard in the offseason to upgrade."

— Hufnagel said he has seen positive signs from Sinopoli, though.

"I was very pleased with Brad in last year's training camp," he said.

Hufnagel said a concern with Sinopoli is his accuracy, but he's made progress there.

"He did improve as the season progressed."

— It's a different-looking quarterback situation for the Stampeders this season with Burris, the 2010 CFL Most Outstanding Player and last year's opening-day starter, gone. Tate looked pretty good down the stretch last season (if not so much in the playoffs), but he still has a relatively small sample size of statistics as a CFL quarterback. Hufnagel said Tate will be well worth watching early on.

"The players that have the most intrigue and mystery leading into the season, Drew Tate would be one of them," he said.

— Hufnagel said Tate impressed with his preparation as a backup last year.

"He'd do everything as if he was taking the snap," Hufnagel said. "He's a very determined young man."

— The Stampeders also brought in Kevin Glenn from Hamilton, and he's expected to be their primary backup this season. Hufnagel said he's had nothing but good reports about Glenn.

"I did want to bring in a veteran quarterback, and I'm happy we got Kevin," he said. "Everyone I've talked to that has been associated with Kevin has had nothing but great things to say about him."

— Another interesting position is kicker, where Canadians Rob Maver and Rene Paredes as well as Aussie Scott Crough are all in contention for the punting and kicking job.

"With Rob Maver, Rene Paredes and Scott Crough, whoever wins that job should make our kicking position strong," Hufnagel said.

— The Stampeders may have finished third in the West last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs, but Hufnagel said their less-than-optimal finish was more about injuries than fundamental flaws, which is why he hasn't made too many big off-season moves.

"We had a good football team," Hufnagel said. "I'm not one to go to battle for free agents unless there's a big need. We rely on our scouting and revamp our roster through the Canadian draft and our U.S. scouting system."

— Hufnagel said the league's growing parity means the Stampeders can't get complacent, though.

"I think there is parity in the league," he said. "The league is getting stronger. Other teams are getting stronger; you have to keep up."

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