CALGARY – Bo Levi Mitchell is confident in his throwing arm to start the CFL season.
The veteran Calgary Stampeders quarterback says he felt no pain during training camp in the shoulder that hampered him in 2021.
“It’s been a while since I’ve smiled in football,” Mitchell said ahead of Calgary’s season-opener Thursday against the Montreal Alouettes at McMahon Stadium.
“I feel amazing. I just want to continue to be a quarterback that can take this team to a Grey Cup.”
Off-season rehabilitation was so successful, the 32-year-old Texan said, that he abandoned an intention to rest his arm every fourth day of camp.
Mitchell instead told head coach Dave Dickenson he wanted push through.
“Instead of trying to taper it and protect it, I was like, ‘let me build it up,”’ Mitchell said. “I want to build up the strength, to build the endurance. I’ve felt great.”
The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player twice (2016, 2018) and two-time Grey Cup winner needs just under 1,700 yards in his 10th season as a Stampeder to become Calgary’s all-time leader in passing yards. Henry Burris holds the record at 32,191.
Mitchell’s 2021 season got off to a painful start when he sustained a broken leg in Calgary’s second game of the season. He missed three games.
Upon his return, Mitchell couldn’t throw the football without pain in the shoulder he’d had surgery on in January, 2020.
Mitchell threw more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (10) in a season for the first time in his career. He compiled 2,594 yards in 11 games.
The Stampeders recovered from a 1-4 start to win seven of nine and make the playoffs in a COVID-19 shortened season.
Uncertain over what his football future would be at the time, Mitchell agreed in January to restructure the final year of a four-year contract he’d signed in 2019 for a reported $2.8 million.
That freed up money to sign quarterback Jake Maier, who posted three 300-yard passing games during Mitchell’s recovery from his broken leg.
Dickenson says Mitchell’s arm hasn’t given him cause for concern in training camp.
“If you watch, his delivery has gone back to what it used to be,” Dickenson said. “I just feel like I’ve got a great quarterback group and I know Bo is going to be a big part of that.You can’t win without good quarterback play.”
Three quarters of Dickenson’s roster was new in 2021. He’s pleased the 2022 edition flipped that ratio, with about three quarters of the Stampeders returning.
The majority of starters from an overtime division semifinal loss to Saskatchewan returned, including running back Ka’Deem Carey, who ranked second in the CFL in rushing yards.
“We flipped that, but we’re still young, which is a good thing,” Dickenson said. “We’ve got enough experience now that I believe they should know what’s coming. There’s still some new faces, but not like last year. The expectations are always high, but I do believe that the more continuity you can keep together, you should do better as a football team.
“I’m going to say that right now, the last three minutes of the game is going to determine winner or loser. We need to win those last three minutes.”
The Alouettes, meanwhile, finally have their man to start under centre this upcoming CFL season after a pre-season rife with uncertainty.
Head coach Khari Jones chose Vernon Adams Jr., over Trevor Harris as his starting quarterback for the opener.
“(Adams is) our starting quarterback, he had a really outstanding training camp,” Jones said. “We really liked what we saw from him, he and Trevor both. They both played really well and we feel good with (Adams) being the starter.”
Montreal’s quarterback saga looked like it was over on Dec. 20 when the Alouettes released Harris. Acquired on Oct. 17 from the Edmonton Elks for defensive end Antonio Simmons, Harris filled the gaping hole left by Adams’ shoulder injury sustained in Week 10 that sidelined him for the remainder of the 2021 season.
With Harris out of the equation just over two months later, Adams seemed to have regained the keys to the Alouettes’ offence. But Montreal added a plot twist on Feb. 9 when Harris re-signed as a free agent.
The Als found themselves with two potential starters with Harris and a recovered Adams.
During the team’s last pre-season game last Friday, Adams threw three interceptions in his first game since his injury. Meanwhile, Harris threw a pick on his very first snap. Neither completed a touchdown pass.
Adams said after the game that there was “good competition” between him and Harris. While Jones placed his vote of confidence on Adams for now, he said he is excited to have two quarterbacks who could be starters on any given day.
“They’re going to be great for each other and that’s what I’m really excited about,” Jones said. “I saw the interaction between those two during camp and it was outstanding. They’re both competing against each other of course but they’re both working with each other and that’s what we want. We want a good team.”
Wide receiver Quan Bray was one of the Alouettes’ most notable cuts ahead of the season opener. The former Auburn University player spent two seasons in Montreal and picked up 481 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 12 games last season.
Despite Bray’s dismissal, the Alouettes will count on another strong receiving corps with Jake Wieneke and Eugene Lewis both re-signing with the team. Wieneke had a league-leading 11 touchdowns last season. Lewis finished second in the league with nine touchdowns and ranked third for receiving yards with 964.
The Alouettes have traditionally counted on talented running backs, and 2022 will be no exception with William Stanback. The 27-year-old is back for a fourth season in Montreal after being the East Division’s candidate for most outstanding player last season.Stanback had 1,176 rushing yards in 2021 and was the only running back to eclipse 1,000 yards last season.
Stanback’s objective is to crack the 1,000-yard mark for a third consecutive season.