Stamps address O-line weakness against sacks
Protecting Mitchell priority heading into game against Riders, writes Danny Austin
The Calgary Stampeders are looking at their options on the right side of their offensive line.
After a game against the B.C. Lions that saw quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell sacked twice and under regular pressure, the Stamps have opted to take a look at both Nila Kasitati and Justin Renfrow at right tackle during Wednesday’s practice.
“We split it up because we know we need to be better,” said Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson. “We’ve got to make sure. We’re evaluating guys, even on scout team and letting everybody do that. The best players will plays and give me that great work ethic.
“We’re always trying to improve and we know we need to be at our best (to beat Saskatchewan on Saturday).”
Randy Richards has been the Stamps’ starting right tackle for the past couple of months and was still getting lots of reps at the spot this week.
It doesn’t seem that the Stamps are ruling him out as the starter for this weekend’s game against the Riders.
That the coaches are even giving other guys’ looks, though, is telling.
The Riders are going to bring a ton of pressure on Mitchell. They’re tied for the league-lead in sacks, and when the Riders handed the Stamps their first loss of the season back in August they took Mitchell down five times.
That can’t happen again if the Stamps are going to win on Saturday and clinch a home date in the West Division Final, so Dickenson and his coaching staff are looking for improvements.
That’s something Dickenson has been saying consistently since Saturday’s loss to the Lions, when he specifically said that the offensive line needed to be better.
“We’ve got (Renfrow) out there, as well, he’s more of our left-tackle, though,” Dickenson said.
“We want to make sure we’re comfortable with our guys. Nila’s proven he can play centre, but we feel like Ucambre (Williams) is healthy now so we want to make sure we at least have options on the right side.”
Based on practice Wednesday, Kasitati would appear to be the next-man-up. In his first year with the Stamps, Kasitati filled in at centre last month when Williams got hurt.
A guard in college while with the Oklahoma Sooners, Kasitati admitted he’s never had to play at tackle, but is so far enjoying being at the outside position on the offensive line.
“Changing positions is kind of hard, but it’s a great experience if your coaches let you do it,” Kasitati said. “I’ve never played tackle, so it’s fun getting to try a new position.
“Guys on the edge are a lot faster, so your eyes have to be at the right place, hand placement, that’s pretty much (the major differences).”
COULD BE IN
Jameer Thurman was back at practice on Wednesday after missing Tuesday because of an ankle injury.
If Thurman is healthy enough to play Saturday, he’ll be in the lineup next to Alex Singleton at linebacker. The guy is in the top10 in the league in both defensive tackles and special teams tackles, so the Stamps want him in the lineup no matter what.
But with Thurman taking less reps than usual this week, Wynton McManis has had a chance to get some more time in with the first-team defence, and the second-year linebacker has made himself invaluable, as well.
The 24-year-old leads the Stamps in special teams tackles, with 18, and that’s got him only two back of the league leader, the Riders’ Alexandre Gagne.
On Saturday, McManis also recovered a fumble on a punt that directly led to a Stamps touchdown.
If he is called-upon to fill in for Thurman this week — or any other week, for that matter — there’s reason to believe he could have a big performance.
“It really just excites me, it makes me want to tune in on my game more and hone in more,” McManis said. “It’s exciting to be able to come out and add something new to my game.”
More than anything, McManis’ impressive season just highlights how much depth the Stampeders have at linebacker.
Wednesday’s practice was the loudest the Stamps have had in a while. Several players said the high-energy was a response to both Saturday’s loss to the Lions and the high stakes of this weekend’s game against the Riders … The Stamps seem to be expecting the biggest crowd of the year at McMahon Stadium this weekend. Not a huge surprise, given the opponent and the fact the forecast is calling for a clear, crisp day for the first time all season.