The Edmonton Eskimos have had some dynamic receiving duos throughout the franchise's history, and they're hoping another is developing this year.
Veteran slotbacks Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman have shown they can be the one-two punch — like Brian Kelly and Tom Scott in the 1980s or Ed Hervey and Terry Vaughn in the early 2000s — that gives opposing CFL defences more trouble than they can handle a if they can stay healthy.
In the Eskimos season-opening 27-20 win in Vancouver last weekend, Bowman had nine catches for 105 yards and the heavily guarded Stamps four for 40 yards. Both caught crucial touchdown passes.
The Eskimos may never have another duo like Kelly and Scott, who terrorized CFL defences the five years they were together in Edmonton and were key players in the Eskimos five straight Grey Cup victories. But with the Eskimos preparing for their home opener tonight versus Hamilton, both Stamps and Bowman were anxious to establish themselves as a pair to be reckoned with.
"I'm going into my fourth year with Fred now and I think we go at each other, tandem with each other, so teams can't do double team and triple team on him when you have guys like me and Shamawd [Chambers] making plays," said Bowman. "So if everybody continues to do their roles and I continue to make my plays when they come, Fred's going to do his thing."
Last year, in 16 games, Stamps' "thing" was 68 receptions for a CFL leading 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bowman played only the final nine games and had an impressive 44 catches for 697 yards and five TDs.
The only season the two have played together for more than half a season was 2011 when they both played 15 games. Stamps had 82 catches for 1,153 yards and eight TDs while Bowman chipped in with 62 catches, an identical 1,153 yards and four TDs.
The thought of both of them being healthy all season has them, along with quarterback Mike Reilly and the Eskimos offence, salivating.
"Man, the sky's the limit," Stamps, who has had five straight seasons of more than 1,000 reception yards, said of the pair's potential. "It's exciting to see something like that. It's big to have him back, healthy again. As the season goes on we're going to get stronger and stronger."
Can they stay healthy?
Reilly said the Stamps-Bowman duo gives defences multiple things to worry about on every play.
"With them being on separate sides of the field it gives defences lots to think about," he said. "You can't push coverage to one side or the other because you're going to get exposed."
One of the big questions with Stamps and Bowman is their health. Stamps, who will likely finish his career in the top two or three of virtually every Eskimo receiving statistical category, has played a full season only twice in his seven years in the league while Bowman has yet to get through an entire schedule in six years.
"It feels good," Bowman said of his health after a leg injury kept him out of 25 games the last two seasons. "I had that little thought in my head last year when I came back, it's not like there's total confidence about every step, plant and breaking and everything I'm doing."
After finishing last season and starting this one strong, that no longer appears to be a concern.
The win in B.C., while it wasn't a particularly strong showing by the offence that simply made too many mistakes in the first half, was important for the confidence of both the team and Bowman.
"For my confidence it was great," said the 6-3, 210-pound Bowman, adding the new offence installed by the new coaching staff is much better than last year's.
"Its better in terms of schemes, things that we can go into games with. I felt like we only used a small portion of what we have. When we can get to what we have, we're going to be a better offence."