Stampeders believe winning starts with the offensive line

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Dave Dickenson is in the camp of those believing that winning football starts from the snap of the ball.

That is … the offence is only as good as your line.

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“Always … that’s right,” said the Calgary Stampeders GM/head coach. 

“Quarterback can’t play if he’s on his back, and so that means your offensive line has to keep him upright,” continued Dickenson. “So keep the quarterback upright, cut the mental errors and move the line of scrimmage. Three things that if we do, we’ll have a good group.”

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It’s a group that didn’t look too good for large chunks of the last CFL season, mostly due to injuries.

But with a new calendar comes new hope — and new goals.

“Just to consistently perform game to game,” said the Stamps veteran centre and leader of the offensive line Sean McEwen. “Last year, that was something we didn’t do. We had inconsistencies — some games we were really good in the run game and some games not so good the pass game and vice-versa. So I think just being able to put consistent performances together week-in and week-out is big goal.”

“Obviously, it was disappointing,” agreed linemate Bryce Bell, now in his fourth season with the Red and White. “But in those times, you’ve gotta take a look in the mirror and really reflect on what you’re doing your game.”

Bell himself could be the lynch-pin in a more consistent season for the Stamps o-line.

After bouncing around to play all five positions in a utility — but life-saving — role for the unit, the 26-year-old from Waterloo, Ont., is getting his shot to be a full-time starter at guard.

He’s got a hold on the left side, while steady man Zack Williams — a full-timer last year and also a Canadian — shifts from left to right guard. They sandwich, of course, fellow Canuck McEwen in the middle.

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“It’s nice to not move around in different positions week to week, and then you can build that chemistry,” Bell said. “I think chemistry on the o-line is super important aspect of it. And I love playing beside everybody. We have a great group, and I just want to play my role and do the best that I can. Communicate, and make sure we’re on the same page and that we’re playing fast.

“I think one of the Bryce’s best facets is his versatility, but it’s going to be nice for him to have a home and actually play the same consistent position week-in and week-out,” continued McEwen. “And I’m a big fan of it, because I know Bryce plays fast and physical, and he’s very smart. So I’m looking forward to playing beside a guy like that, for sure.”

Stamps’ training camp should set who gets the bulk of opportunity at the two tackle positions — the outside spots on the o-line.

Those will likely be won by Americans or rotated through them.

Back are Joshua Coker — who made 11 starts at right tackle last year — Brandon Weldon — who made three starts in his first year with the Stamps in 2023 — and D’Antne Demery — also a 2023 signee. 

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And fellow Americans new to the team are Hunter Thedford — a former tight end with the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers — Chris Toth — an NCAA Division III all-American with the Aurora Spartans — Eric Smith — who has played in for four NFL games — and Trevon Tate — who started 10 games for the Toronto Argonauts in 2023 and, when he wasn’t injured, was part of an offensive line that allowed a league-low total of 19 sacks.

The other Canadians in camp are Rodeem Brown — who made one start at centre for the Stamps last year — 2023 fourth-round draftee Alexandre Marcoux — and 2024 first-rounder Christy Nkanu.

“We’re not super deep,” Dickenson said. “I wish Cam was here at the start of rookie camp because I think he’s got a lot of skill.

“We’ve all been happy with our rookie (eight-overall pick Nkanu), but he is going through some growing pains,” continued Dickenson. “And then the outside guys, I’m not sure I’ve settled on any sort of rotation. I think every day, a guy really takes a lead and then another guy takes a lead the following day. So we’ve got some tough decisions coming ahead. But I like our group.”

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Whatever that may look like when the regular season opens for the Stampeders on June 7 versus the incoming Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon (7 p.m.).

“Yeah, we’re just excited as a group to get after it,” Bell said. “We think we have a really good room — everyone’s supporting each other. We just want to set the tone and really bring the be the difference in the offence and be physical — make teams play us and not play other teams.”

“We just gotta get time playing together,” added McEwen. “Just taking some time to kind of gel and be able to play to play fast together.”

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