Some call it swagger, some call it arrogance, but no matter what you call it the Calgary Stampeders defensive corps has it.
While their confidence might be irritating to those on the outside, the group believes it’s earned the right to show off a little bit — and with good reason.
For most of the season Calgary’s defence, led by linebacker Alex Singleton, defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and defensive backs Joshua Bell and Tommie Campbell, was the league standard when it came to defensive prowess. Calgary gave up the fewest points (349), allowed the fewest touchdowns (35), gave up the fewest first downs (343), surrendered the fewest yards (5,664) and finished tied for first, with Toronto, for most sacks (50).
“We are 100 per cent confident in what we’re doing as a team,” Hughes said Thursday as his team prepared to face the Argonauts in Sunday’s Grey Cup. “We have to have that approach that we’re the best so whether you want to call it cocky or confident it’s up to each person to interpret it the way they want.”
Hughes, who led the league with 11 sacks, set the stage Wednesday when asked if Argos quarterback Ricky Ray was hard to take down.
“Ricky Ray is not difficult to take down at all,” he replied. “I mean he’s one of the easier quarterback’s to sack because when he sees you coming he’s going to turtle.”‘
While most players try to keep bulletin board material to a minimum heading into a big game, Hughes saw nothing wrong with his comments and neither did his teammates.
“If he told a story or if he lied on that stand I would be like c’mon bro why did you say that,” said Bell. “He spoke the truth so I don’t see nothing wrong with it.”
Bell says there’s an expectation when you join the Stampeders and as such a cocksure identity has been created, but at the same time says there’s never a worry that anyone will get bigger than the game.
“We can’t get too high or think too high of ourselves as we’ve got coaches and we have each other and we jump down each other’s neck about any mistake someone makes, every single last one,” said Bell. “You can think you’re the next best thing and we’ll pull you right back down and make you realize no one’s bigger than the whole.”
Accountability breeds success
That identity starts with defensive co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks who ensures his players are held accountable.
Claybrooks has made a point of letting his players have a voice in how the defence will play. So players have taken ownership, which Claybrooks believes translates into success.
“When you borrow a car you don’t really take care of it, but when it’s your own you want to take it to the car wash,” explained Claybrooks. “That the perfect analogy here of how my guys are.”
Allowing them to have input not only makes them feel included it also simplifies things for Claybrooks when something doesn’t work.
“Sometimes their stuff ain’t sound and I know they’re going to get beat, but we’ll put it in practice anyway and I’ll let them see because it also let’s them know why it didn’t work so when I give them another rule now they understand why this one works and they have more understanding,” said Claybrooks. “The more they know, the faster they play and the better we are.”
The Stampeders looked just as good last season and were heavily favoured to win the Grey Cup only to lose to the Ottawa Redblacks 39-33 in overtime. Some wondered if Calgary had been a little overconfident heading into the game.
With much of its defensive corps intact, the Stampeders expect a different result Sunday.
“We don’t want that bitter taste in our month again,” said defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis. “Our mindset is different this year. We know we can’t take anything for granted no matter what our record is. I hate that we had to lose on such a big stage, but it was a wake up call for us.”