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Calgary Stampeders' training camp opens with an abundance of quarterbacks

CALGARY — Quarterback meetings were crowded to start Calgary Stampeders' training camp. Seven quarterbacks, including last year's starter Jake Maier, were on McMahon Stadium's turf Sunday.
Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier, right, throws a pass during opening day of training camp in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, May 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Quarterback meetings were crowded to start Calgary Stampeders' training camp.

Seven quarterbacks, including last year's starter Jake Maier, were on McMahon Stadium's turf Sunday. One of them, local product Danny Skelton, was a CFL quarterback internship participant.

But Maier and last season's backups Tommy Stevens and Logan Bonner were joined by CFL veteran Matt Shiltz, Kyle Vantrease and Chris Reynolds to start main camp.

"That's part of the business right?" Maier said. "It is a healthy competition. Everyone gets along well. You're either producing or you're not. I plan on producing and doing what I need to do."

Calgary (6-12-0) won the turtle derby for the West Division's third and final playoff spot in 2023 before falling 41-30 to the B.C. Lions in the division semifinal.

The Stampeders ranked last in the league in touchdowns (36) and average offensive yards per game (335.5). Calgary topped the CFL in field goals with kicker Rene Paredes going 52 for 60.

In his first full season as a starter, Maier led the league in completions (363) and passing attempts (578), but his completion percentage (62.8) and efficiency (85) ranked outside the top CFL starters.

"He's pushed himself," said Stampeders head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson. "As a whole unit, we've got to up our game. That starts with the front, the o-line. We've watched the tape from last year. We didn't give him any comfort early on. We made more mental errors than we can afford to make.

"We did improve as the year went on limiting our three-and-outs. If we're going to really win games, we can't keep giving Rene career stats. That can be getting more opportunities, but that's also taking advantage when we're down inside that 20-yard line."

Schiltz, 31, played six CFL seasons with the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Calgary's backup Stevens scored six short-yardage rushing touchdowns in 2023.

Bonner was the Stampeders' third-stringer and Reynolds a practice roster QB. Vantrease, 25, is a University of Buffalo alum.

"I was happy with the guys here last year, but I did want to bring in a veteran guy and Matt's done that," Dickenson said. "We've had Kyle on our (negotiation) list for quite awhile."

Maier, who took the starting job from Bo Levi Mitchell midway through the 2022 season, wasn't uncomfortable with five other men at camp trying to take his job.

"I'm not. I came into this league in a situation where I was battling with a guy who is a Hall of Famer and I understood the role that came with that," said the 27-year-old from Fullerton, Calif. "When you break it down, how can I keep my life simple, how can I focus on my fundamentals and how do I clear my mind every day?

"None of that has to do with any external factors or who's here? Who's not? What's the outside world saying? Should I be here? Should I not? Should I start? If I think too much about that stuff, I'm just wasting my time, wasting my thoughts."

Maier altered his diet in the off-season to drop weight, and ran more.

"That's not just hopping on a treadmill or running miles," he said. "That's speed work, change of direction and short bursts. I'm down a few pounds and I'm quicker than I have (been) since I've been in this league."

Dickenson admitted it's difficult to give all quarterbacks enough work in the Stampeders' lighter camp schedule to preserve bodies. Two-a-days are gone and the players were off the field Sunday after an hour 45 minutes.

"It is the right move at this point. Health is important," Dickenson said. "Just got to to make sure we give them enough reps. That's going to be the challenge."

Forest fire smoke from northern B.C. that sent the Edmonton Eskimos indoors Sunday cleared enough in southern Alberta for the Stampeders to practice outside in the morning.

Receivers Jalen Philpot, Malik Henry and Clark Barnes were present and accounted for.

University of Calgary product Philpot sat out the 2023 season rehabbing a hamstring injury, Henry suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture July 15 and Guelph alum Barnes underwent season-ending knee surgery in August.

The Stampeders play two pre-season games starting May 25 at home against the Lions, followed by a May 31 road game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Calgary's season-opener June 7 against the Tiger-Cats could feature Mitchell's first game at McMahon since the two-time winner of the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award was traded in 2022.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press