Wednesday's Fan Forum at the Red and White Club included a question-and-answer session with queries posed both by fans in attendance and through social media.
Here is a sampling of some of those questions and the responses by head coach and general manager John Hufnagel, president/COO Lyle Bauer and players Jon Cornish and Keon Raymond.
Q: Do you expect Eric Fraser to be the starter at safety in 2012?
John Hufnagel: Eric Fraser will be in position to compete for a starting job. I would be disappointed if he did not accomplish that. Backing him up? That would be competition. Andre Clarke is a young man who was in last year’s draft who was injured during his senior season and didn’t get drafted. We picked him up and he came to training camp but injured his foot again. He’ll be back and hopefully it’s not three strikes and out. We’ll see where it goes from there.
Q: What improvements can we expect to see on the defensive front seven?
John Hufnagel: As far as the defensive line, we have signed several defensive linemen. On the defensive end positions, we’ve signed K.C. Asiodu, Chase Vaughn, Montez Robinson and Cody Brown. All these players have one similar trait — they rush the quarterback. On the inside, we have Kareem Brown who we have signed and we have a couple of more players who are on our neg list who will be coming down to rookie camp in Florida where we will be better able to evaluate. At the linebacker position, we signed Joe Henderson, who was with the BC Lions last year and who played at Alabama-Birmingham. Wally (Buono) got into a situation where he had a roster problem and he had to expose Joe . . . and good friend John Hufnagel stole him from him. In the draft last year, Jadon Wagner — who was a linebacker playing for BYU — was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but he went back to BYU to finish his eligibility and we acquired him when we traded Milton Collins to Hamilton. Then Marvin White is a very athletic, strong, tall SAM linebacker/DB type player who I’m very excited about. So that is the extent of the players we have signed. Again, we have other players on our neg list or who we will bringing to camp down in Florida. Once all the dust settles, I will have a better idea of who will be coming to training camp.
Q: With Arjei Franklin re-signed and some other Canadian receivers previously signed, where does Arjei fit in to your receiving corps?
John Hufnagel: Well, he’s going to fit in like the other Canadian receivers — come to training camp and try to win a job.
Q: With the special-teams changes made in the off-season, does Rob Maver have the inside track for the punting job due to his capability of handling place-kicking duties in case of an injury to Rene Paredes? Or will it be an open competition with the Australian Scott Crough?
John Hufnagel: It will be an open competition. I don’t know what job Rob Maver will eventually win, if any. He’s going to come in and compete for both jobs and the best kicker will get it. I know that the Australian was here last year trying out. Burke Dales has a big leg and this young man can punt. So it’s going to be an interesting training camp at the kicking position.
Q: Looking back at last year’s season, it was certainly up and down. In the middle of the season, we looked like the best team in the country but we didn’t finish that way. Looking back, what’s the biggest thing you learned from last season?
John Hufnagel: I think that if you looked at every team last year except for one — that’s the BC Lions — we all had up-and-down seasons. We started the season out 6-2 and we got into a slump and were 2-5 and that’s when I did make the quarterback change. During that 2-5 situation, that’s when I made the running back change. We finished the season as the strongest team in the Canadian Football League by winning the last three. We failed up in Edmonton (in the West semifinal). So the only thing that you learn is that you didn’t get it done, you have to work harder, you have to get even more prepared for training camp and then you have to send the message to the players that we, as a football team — coaches, players, everyone involved — has to do better.
Q: I was wondering if a linebackers coach has been signed yet.
John Hufnagel: The coaches on defence right now, you have Rick Campbell as defensive coordinator and handling the linebackers. Tony Missick coming back and handling the defensive secondary and DeVone Claybrooks going from the playing field to the coaches’ office (and handling the defensive line). I do have someone lined up coming to training camp as a guest coach and he’ll be on a two-week interview process. I’ll decide at that time whether we will add a coach.
Q: What are you doing to ensure a stable, revamped o-line?
John Hufnagel: Our offensive line did get better as the season progressed. Truth be known, we were devastated in training camp. One thing I do not do is talk about injuries. I ignore injuries because there’s no excuse, so why talk about it? But we went into training camp and into the first week of the regular season with a right tackle who has played three games and a right guard who just learned how to put his new Calgary Stampeders jersey on. I played with a left guard who was there for a year and a left tackle who had one year of experience. When we lost (Dimitri) Tsoumpas in training camp, when Jon Gott went down and couldn’t compete at the guard or centre position, we were just a very young offensive line. Going into training camp, I thought I would have one new offensive lineman for the opening game — possibly at right tackle — but it didn’t happen that way. Fortunately, they worked hard. Tsoump got healthy, Jon Gott got healthy. We had some more injuries but the other players — and the younger players especially — had gotten some experience and we became a better offensive line as the year progressed.
Q: You have free-agent camps in the U.S., do you plan on having a free-agent camp in Canada for Canadian players, whether they be CIS non-drafted or junior players?
John Hufnagel: At this time, no. We do work out players. They’ll call the office and say that they’d like a workout and so in the months of April and May, when the weather is good, we’ll go out and spend a half-hour doing the tests and drills with them. They do have the free-agent camp the day before the evaluation camp out in Toronto and a lot of players go to that. It’s not to say we won’t have (a Canadian free-agent camp) in the future but right now we just do it on an individual basis.
Q: Are we going to see our great CFL on the NFL Network again this season? How about even more coverage? The more games the better. For those us in other countries, it’s a great thrill to settle down to a Stampeder game whenever we can.
Lyle Bauer: Well, there were many games on the NFL Network last year and there have been a variety of carriers over the last few years. The discussions are taking place right now at the CFL level with a couple of carriers and one of them happens to be the NFL (Network). The ideal situation is to have all of our games broadcast in North America and to other places but television contracts are interesting things. As you negotiate them, you also have to try and get enough money out of them and we’re just preparing for a new TSN negotiation as well. There will be a new deal to carry games in the U.S. and hopefully that will come out in the next number of weeks.
Q: I was interested in the survey about possible McMahon Stadium improvements. Will this be funded by current McMahon facility fees or will there be an additional charge to Stampeder ticket-holders. What is the short-, mid- and long-term plan for McMahon Stadium?
Lyle Bauer: The idea behind the facility fee is that we play in a 50-year-old-plus facility and it costs money to keep this thing in a condition that’s in. The McMahon Stadium Society and their people including John Haverstock do a very good maintaining this building. We do know that in some ways, it’s functionally obsolete and we have to have upgrades in certain areas. The majority of those areas have been identified by our fans — washrooms, concessions, the concourse, seating — all those types of things. I think the challenge in all of that as we work though all the plans going forward — whether you wind up with a refurbished facility or potentially a new facility, you have to find out what the costs are and then figure out the volume and whether it’s worthwhile the type of money to overhaul the facility. But the funding? That is the several-hundred-million-dollar question. How do you pay for it? I think we’d be foolish to think we could look at the public purse for everything but there’s going to have to be some participation on a variety of fronts. I have to dance around that one the best way I possibly can until I find out what the heck the numbers are going to be.
Q: Are there any plans where fans could go on road trips?
Lyle Bauer: There may be some opportunities for that. It depends on the type of equipment and whether we’re flying commercial or charter. We do travel with a small army and there may be some games where we’d be able to put some offerings out there. Our marketing department is looking at that and working with football (operations) to see what kind of space there might be.
Q: What do you think of the revamped office that will be run this year?
Jon Cornish: Last year, you had a good opportunity to see what we were like in the last four games with Drew Tate helming the offence. It’s going to be a game where you’re going to see a lot of different wide receivers catch the ball and you’re going to see me and Rob Cote and LaMarcus Coker catching the ball out of the backfield. But it’s going to be the same old Stampeders — we’ve been really good at scoring the last few years with Coach Hufnagel and Coach Dickenson and I’m sure Coach Dickenson has some great plays set up to get the ball to our key playmakers.
Q: We seem to run a lot of our running plays out of the shotgun and I was running if you had a preference to have the quarterback under centre a bit more for some of the running plays.
Jon Cornish: In college, I was part of a shotgun running scheme and it was me beside the quarterback rather than being behind the quarterback. It works pretty well for me to be lined up beside the quarterback I’m moving a little bit slower and I have more time to read everything that’s going on.
Q: Tell us about that 117-yard return in that game last year, just what it was like and what you saw . . .
Keon Raymond: Uh, did you see me on the oxygen machine? You know what? We practice hard all the time and you never really run the length of the football field. We usually get 40-yard spurts but to be able to run the length of the football field . . . I was running and I was like, “When am I going to get there?” But it was definitely exciting. When I saw the replay, I saw my teammates on the sideline yelling and screaming and I’m looking at all 40,000 Saskatchewan Roughriders fans who are quiet now. So that was also a big highlight.