The last time they met, Jamar Wall was the next thing to a CFL rookie, Keon Raymond was injured and the Calgary Stampeders defensive backfield was treated like a little kid chasing a ball being thrown over his head by a couple of big guys.
That’s how it went in late July, when the B.C. Lions passing game teased the Stamps for 315 yards, three touchdowns and a 34-8 win. Naturally, B.C. receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce both had a hand in that outcome.
But a few things have changed as the two West Division rivals ready for a game Saturday in Vancouver. The top-ranked Lions have lost some of their offensive strut the last two weekends, barely beating the fourth-place Edmonton Eskimos (19-18) before losing to the third-place Saskatchewan Roughriders (27-21). To complicate matters, Simon left the Saskatchewan game with a tweaked hamstring, while Bruce suffered a head injury after an airborne collision.
The two frequent fliers are expected to sit out against Calgary, which opens a spot for imports Courtney Taylor and Nick Moore. Ask the Stampeders defenders what that means and they’ll tell you: “Not much.”
In their minds, they still see Simon and Bruce influencing the B.C. passing game.
“Geroy has the most receiving yards in the history of the league,” said Wall, a first-year defensive halfback. “I’m sure his teammates are going to mirror-image him; watch how [Simon and Bruce] run their routes. Those two guys are going to help their team, regardless. I’m sure they’re in their teammates’ ears telling them what to look for.”
Raymond, the veteran cornerback who watched the July beating from the sideline, felt the same way, noting how Simon and Bruce “are definitely giving those [new] guys insight, helping them in the film room. … They’re going to run the same [offensive] sets.”
The Lions (9-4) still have their share of firepower without Simon and Bruce. Running back Andrew Harris is a true double-threat man; Marco Iannuzzi caught a pair of touchdowns against Saskatchewan, and his receiving mates include Akeem Foster, Shawn Gore, Paris Jackson and Kierre Johnson. Meanwhile, quarterback Travis Lulay has thrown a touchdown pass in 24 consecutive games and is on pace for another statistically strong season as the league’s reigning most outstanding player.
That’s enough to have the Stampeders (8-5) running back and forth with their arms stretched over their heads all game – except, this time, things are different for Calgary, too.
Over the last six weeks, the Stamps have lost only once. Their offence has shown it can grind it out with running back Jon Cornish – the CFL Canadian player of the month, week, hour, minute – and it can also throw effectively with Kevin Glenn at quarterback. What’s helped stabilize the team overall is the defensive secondary, where injuries and replacements had made for a constant shuffling of bodies.
Wall and Raymond have settled in at their current positions, while Fred Bennett, Eric Fraser and either Brandon Smith or Tad Kornegay have all benefited from being on the field together for weeks in a row.
“I was still pretty new [playing against the Lions],” said Wall, who got into a pair of NFL games in 2010, before joining Calgary this season. “They showed us a lot. They have a lot of guys who knew what they were doing out there. I think I’ve learned a lot more and I think we’ve bonded more as a team since that last meeting.”
“When you get guys consistently playing together it tends to slow the game down for you,” explained Raymond, who leads Calgary with three interceptions. “The rookies? They’re no longer rookies … especially when you’re playing teams two or three times. You’re starting to learn from them.”
Now, they get to find out how much was learned from a 26-point loss to a team that may be off its mark but can still embarrass.