2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 4(a) of 4 – Saskatchewan Roughriders

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How shall we refer to the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2015 season?

The Season That Ended In The First Quarter of the First Game?

The Season of Perpetual Disappointment?

The Season That Never Should Be Forgotten?

The Season That Someone Stupidly Thought That Tino Sunseri Could Be An *Actual* CFL Quarterback?

I know – that last one is a little too long.

Suffice it to say that the Riders’ 2015 season was a disaster from beginning to end. By finishing 3-15, the Riders managed to tie the season record of the 1999 Roughriders, which many think of as one of the worst teams in Rider history.

Great job, guys.

I could spend thousand of words outlining exactly what went wrong in 2015.  But that would be more effort than Corey Chamblin put into planning his entire defensive scheme last season, and, well, I’d rather not re-live the horror that Chamblin and his trusty sidekick, Brendan Taman, unleashed upon us Rider fans.

So, onward and forward we go.

After the 2015 season mercifully came to a close, I posted the following:

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The Riders granted me 4 out of 5 of my requests.  Not bad.  As for the one that wasn’t fulfilled, the non-fulfillment actually ended up being better in the long run.  Why?  Let’s find out.

GENERAL MANAGER AND FOOTBALL OPERATIONS

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I consider myself to be a fairly unlucky person.  I never win pools or draws, and lottery tickets are useless in my hands.  I’m the person whose plans to leave work early on a Friday are always thwarted; the one who always ends up in the longest line even when it looks to be the shortest.

I now believe that all of the luck the universe has allotted for me went toward the hiring of the two gentlemen above: Chris Jones and John Murphy.

Getting one of the them would’ve been a huge win for the Riders.  Getting BOTH was a freaking coup.

You could hear jaws dropping across the league when the Riders announced that Chris Jones would be the Riders’ new GM and Head Coach, while John Murphy joined the team as its new Assistant VP of Football Operations and Player Personnel.

(Even though you’re a Rider fan and you prepare yourself for the worst, try not to think about the severance that will be paid to these two if things don’t work out.)

John Murphy, who is apparently still a member of the Calgary Stampeders, was an Assistant GM in Calgary for many years.  You know how annoying it was/is that the Stamps had/have the ability to find great players who can step in for big name players without the team missing a beat?  John Murphy was largely responsible for that scouting machine in Calgary.

If you’ve ever listened to a John Murphy interview, you’ll know that the man lives and breathes football, and that his football acumen is top notch.  Together, he and Chris Jones ran TWENTY-FIVE free agent camps during the off season and evaluated over THREE THOUSAND football players.

That’s serious dedication.

As for Jones, he’s been in the Grey Cup seven times, coming away with victories on four occasions.  He’s a defensive guru, and in two short seasons, he turned a 5-13 team into a Grey Cup winner.  Most impressive, though, Jones has been in the CFL for fourteen seasons and has never missed the playoffs.

I don’t think he plans on letting this be the first season his misses.

Initially, Jones and Murphy were the grim reapers.  Only a week into their tenure, they cut nineteen players, including veterans Weldon Brown and Tyron Brackenridge.

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And it didn’t end there.

Shortly into the new year, the Riders announced that Rider lifers and fan favourites Weston Dressler and John Chick had been released.  While most fans understood why, some were more than a little upset:

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Jones and Murphy haven’t been afraid to make big, controversial changes.  That is a refreshing change considering the past couple of years.  But there have been a few missteps along the way.

The Riders acquired receiver Maurice Price and OL Bruce Campbell through trades with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Toronto Argonauts, respectively.  In each case, the Riders gave up 2016 draft picks, specifically a 4th round and a 6th round.  Both retired a few months later, with Price taking a rumoured $30,000 signing bonus with him.

Trading draft picks for veteran players isn’t terribly smart.  It got Brendan Taman into A LOT of trouble.  It was the reason why the Riders didn’t have a second round pick in this year’s draft, which was particularly unfortunate given how deep a draft it was.  On the other hand, Jones and Murphy weren’t expecting either player to retire.

Hopefully it’s a lesson learned for Jones and Murphy – albeit the hard way.

Then there’s the ongoing saga of 1st overall draft pick Josiah St. John.  Let me say this: I think St. John is getting some terrible advice from his notorious agent, Jonathon Hardaway.  He has not garnered any significant NFL interest and his US college resume wasn’t stellar – he only started four games last year. Personally, I think the Riders should’ve taken one of the OL available from Laval, especially given concerns about St. John’s performance at the combine, but Jones and Murphy decided to go with St. John.

And it’s completely blown up in their faces.

After being unable to come to terms prior to training camp, St. John requested a trade. There have been all kinds of rumours about what contract terms were offered and whether or not the Riders played hardball to their detriment.  Regardless, Jones and Murphy are content to let St. John sit – and I completely agree with this strategy.  

St. John hasn’t played a down of professional football.  What leverage does he have?  The Riders have his rights, and by all accounts, they could force him to sit for two years if he doesn’t sign a contract – unless the Riders trade his rights away.  I’m with the Riders on this one: St. John needs to learn that being picked 1st overall doesn’t mean anything until you show up to training camp and prove that you were the right choice.

COACHING

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While this coaching staff is new to Riderville, it has been together for a couple of years, ultimately winning the Grey Cup with the Eskimos last year.  There’s only one new addition – Markus Howell as receivers coach.

I’m not sure why, by Chris Jones isn’t listed as the team’s Defensive Coordinator – but I assure you that he is.  Jones will bring a much more aggressive defences with big bodies focused on creating turnovers.

No more predictable safety blitzes!

On offence, the Riders finally bring back a quarterbacks coach.  I never understood why the team didn’t have a quarterbacks coach over the last couple of years, particularly given QB Darian Durant’s injury woes.  But sanity has returned to Riderville and Jarious Jackson will mentor Durant and the other QBs.

Now for the one thing the Riders didn’t give me out of wish list: Corey McDiarmid back as special teams coach.  I’m more than okay with this, though, because it paved the way for Craig Dickenson to return.

Dickenson was with the Roughriders for the 2012 season, but after differences arose between him and Corey Chamblin (surprise, surprise, in retrospect) he left the team.  Dickenson is a special teams guru and his expertise will be needed given the amount of new players that will join the Riders without any CFL experience.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Rider offence.

 

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