Incumbent pivot looking svelte, feeling better than ever after focused CFL off-season

Article content

Everywhere Jake Maier looks at McMahon Stadium, there’s another guy with an arm looking to take his job at Calgary Stampeders training camp.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Five others, to be exact.

Article content

A crowded camp, indeed, for quarterbacks.

“That’s part of the business, right?” said Maier, the Stampeders’ incumbent starter at the QB position. “That’s part of the deal in the CFL. There’s always a handful of guys that you bring in to see if they can fit in this league.

“I remember being that same American,” continued Maier, who — as a rookie — wrestled the gig away from Stamps legend Bo Levi Mitchell midway through the 2021 CFL campaign. “I remember being a rookie at the bottom of the totem pole trying to scratch and claw for some reps. There’s no reason why some of those guys can’t make an impact, as well.

“It is a healthy competition, and everybody gets along really well.”

They are fellow returnees Tommy Stevens, Logan Bonner and Chris Reynolds and newcomers Matt Shiltz and Kyle Vantrease.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Shiltz is the most interesting addition, having signed on with the Stamps in free agency in February.

“Well … I do think overall we are always looking for good players,” explained Stamps GM/head coach Dave Dickenson, of bringing in more competition at the QB position. “I was happy with the guys here last year, but I did want to bring in a veteran guy — and Matt’s that guy.

“And we’ve had Kyle on our negotiation list for quite a while.”

Only one can be tabbed ‘the starter’ for the Stamps, however.

And the 27-year-old Maier — looking svelte and admittedly feeling better than ever during the early days of main camp at McMahon — is focused on holding onto that role heading into the 2024 CFL season.

“I made some tweaks to my diet — some things a little bit more personal than others just in terms of what I’m able to eat or not,” Maier said. “I felt that was big. I ran more than I ever have before — not just hopping on a treadmill or running miles but speed work and change of direction and short bursts.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“I like where I’m at. I’m down a few pounds, and I’m quicker than I’ve been in this league.”

For the Stamps, here’s hoping it all means he’s headed for improvement after a pedestrian year in 2023.

Recommended from Editorial

In returning to their winning ways after a troubled 6-12 finish, the Stamps need more than what Maier gave them last season.

In his second full schedule as the starter, he threw for 4,244 yards — third most among CFL QBs. But his 62.8% completion percentage was low compared to other league starters, and 15 interceptions against 19 touchdowns isn’t a positive enough ratio for a top-shelf quarterback.

Advertisement 5

Article content

So an uptick from Maier in 2024 is necessary.

“He’s pushed himself,” Dickenson said. “He knows as a whole unit, we’ve got to up our game, and that starts with the front — the offensive line. We watched the tape from last year, and we didn’t give Jake any comfort early on. We made more mental errors than we can afford to make.”

Certainly, an improvement in o-line performance would go a long ways to helping Maier have a better season.

But there’s also something to being pushed by competition.

Cue, then, the 31-year-old Shiltz, who — in limited action last year, including three starts with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — turned heads with a 67.1 pass-completion percentage, 1,556 yards and seven touchdowns. In six CFL campaigns, the vet has appeared in more games — 78 — than Maier — 48.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Stevens, the Stamps’ 27-year-old short-yardage specialist, and Reynolds, 25, both return to the team after being given very little responsibility in last year’s passing game, while the 26-year-old Bonner didn’t get a snap in 2023.

And at 6-foot-2, the 25-year-old Vantrease is new to the CFL, after six NCAA seasons combined with the Buffalo Bulls and the Georgia Southern Eagles, with whom he threw for a school-record 4,253 yards in his senior year in 2022.

Jake Maier at Calgary Stampeders camp
Calgary Stampeders QB Jake Maier with other QBs during the opening of main camp at McMahon Stadium in Calgary on Sunday, May 12, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

But Maier did plenty over the off-season in his quest to retain the starter’s role, including getting five veteran receivers out to his new home in Arizona for a week of bonding.

“That’s the stuff you hear about all the time with pro athletes,” Maier said. “We threw routes, and we did some of our offensive stuff, but we also went to dinner and we also had nights together where we’re just having a good time — and that’s important.

Advertisement 7

Article content

“Everybody goes their different ways sometimes, and you live in different places. If you can find a week or a week-and-a-half when you can get everybody together, that just builds the camaraderie more than anything.”

And hopefully a winning passing attack …

Because the pressure is on Maier, even if he declares that he’s not feeling it.

“No … no I’m not,” said Maier, who is focused on three keys — keeping it simple, staying sharp and keeping his mind clear — for the season ahead.

“Man, I came in this league into a situation where I was battling with a guy that was a hall-of-famer, and I understood the role that came with that,” he added. “When you really break it down to how can I keep my life simple, how can I focus on my fundamentals and how can I clear my mind every day, none of that has to do with any external factors of who’s here, who’s not, what’s the outside world saying, should I be here, should I not be here, should I start …

“If I think too much about that stuff, it’s like I’m just wasting my time and wasting my thoughts. So … no … I don’t feel that pressure at all. You’re either producing or you’re not. I plan on producing and doing what I need to do.”

X: @ToddSaelhofPM

Article content


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here