Another week, another new starting running back for the Calgary Stampeders.
Hugh Charles will take handoffs from starter Bo Levi Mitchell on Saturday when Calgary (5-1) visits the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-5) at Ron Joyce Stadium. Charles, a seven-year CFL veteran who joined the practice roster July 28, replaces the injured Martell Mallett.
“Hugh Charles is an excellent running back and has done very well in the CFL,” Calgary coach/GM John Hufnagel told reporters this week. “I don’t expect us to lose a beat with Hugh in there.”
Charles spent three seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos before being released during training camp. He signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and played one game — rushing for 86 yards on 13 carries in a 26-13 loss to B.C. on July 12 — before being let go once again.
Mallett stepped into Calgary’s starting offence Aug. 1, rushing for 116 yards while adding six catches for 59 yards in a 25-24 loss to B.C. The CFL’s top rookie in ‘09 with the Lions, he had three rushes for 16 yards in last weekend’s 38-17 victory over Ottawa and will miss Saturday’s game in Hamilton with a groin injury.
Calgary has been hit hard with injuries at running back to the likes of incumbent Jon Cornish, fellow Canuck Matt Walter, Jock Sanders and Mallett.
Slotback Marquay McDaniel was a key performer against Ottawa with nine catches for 117 yards. Mitchell, after enduring his first career loss as a starter against B.C., was 26-of-36 passing for 289 yards and three TDs versus the Redblacks.
This marks the second meeting this season between Hamilton and Calgary. The Stampeders took a hard-fought 10-7 victory at McMahon Stadium on July 18, thanks to a late botched snap that prevented the Ticats from booting the game-tying field goal.
Mitchell was 20-of-35 passing for 201 yards against the Ticats.
Youngster Jeremiah Masoli earned the start for Hamilton in that game but was replaced in the second half by third-year pro Dan LeFevour. LeFevour has remained under centre and will make his fourth straight start in the rematch with Calgary.
“It’s a veteran defence that’s had a lot of success,” LeFevour said of the Stampeders’ defensive unit. “They’re confident, they believe in what they’re doing and what they’ve been doing has been working.”
It sure has. Calgary’s defence — under the guidance of veteran co-ordinator Rich Stubler — is ranked first overall in fewest points (15.7 per game), rushing yards (76.3), touchdowns (seven) and passing TDs (four) allowed and last week against Ottawa forced four turnovers.
Defensive end Charleston Hughes has forced a league-best three fumbles and recorded a team-high six sacks. Calgary’s defence allowed a season-low 223 net offensive yards in the first meeting against Hamilton.
The Ticats are also expected to be without versatile running back C.J. Gable (foot).
LeFevour has completed 80-of-119 passes (67.2 per cent) for 994 yards with two TDs against three interceptions with Hamilton. He’s also been a dual threat, having run for a team-high 272 yards (6.5-yard average) with four touchdowns.
LeFevour has rushed for over 100 yards in two of his three starts this season. Although there’s an increased threat of injury with a running quarterback, Austin said a key is striking a balance.
“When you have a quarterback that can make things happen with his feet and throw the ball well, you don’t want to eliminate one or the other too much or bring too much emphasis to one,” Austin said. “What we do want to do is mitigate pulling the ball down too early ... and make sure he has a better sense of awareness and timing when to move the sticks with his feet and when to just execute the passing game.”
Overall, Austin said he’s pleased with LeFevour’s steady improvement as the Ticats’ starter.
“Dan’s decision-making is getting better,” he said. “He’s anticipating his throws a little bit better and not holding on to the ball as long because he’s going through his progressions faster simply from a level of comfort and understanding what’s in front of him defensively and how to execute what we’re asking him to execute.”
Calgary is 4-0 versus East Division rivals this season. Hamilton is a dismal 0-5 against Western competition but its last four losses have been by 15 points combined.