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

OFFENCE

1. Quarterbacks

no darian!

Let us pray.

Dear Heavenly Football God,

Our friend and leader, Darian Durant – I’m sure you’ve heard of him – has had a tough couple of years.  During the 2014 season, a hit that occurred during a play whistled dead caused a torn tendon in his right elbow, also known as Steve.  Darian worked hard to help Steve recover, and going into the 2015 season, Darian and Steve were poised for a big season.

Then the weirdest thing happened.  It was the first game of the season, and during one play, where Darian threw the ball downfield – something Tino Sunseri couldn’t do (please forgive me for my anger there) – and all of a sudden he started hobbling.  The next thing you knew, he was being taken off the field in a cart, and his season was over.  His Achilles tendon, also known as Stan, had ruptured.  And that was it for the Riders’ season.

Heavenly Football God, you know that Darian loves football.  He cried tears of joy after winning the 2013 Grey Cup on home turf, and he’s always been a great leader and community guy.  He deserves to be healthy this year.  He deserves to play.  

So Heavenly Football God, I beseech you to protect Darian.  Protect Steve and Stan, and all of Darian’s other body parts, so that he may be strong and healthy for the 2016 season.  

And please let the Riders beat the Blue Bombers on Labour Day.

In the name of all things CFL-related,

Amen.

P.S. If you see a second-string QB out there, could you please make sure he gets John Murphy’s attention somehow?  Thanks!

You somehow knew that the 2015 Rider season was lost the minute starting QB Darian Durant went down in the first game.  It was a terrible omen; a harbinger of things to come. Looking back, the Riders really should have just forfeited the season then and there.  If only we had known how much worse it would get.

The fact of the matter is that Darian Durant hasn’t played a full game since September 2014, nearly two years ago.  By all accounts, he’s had a good training camp.  But none of that matters until he gets on the field and sees some actual game action.

Last year, Darian thought he could throw for 6,000 yards under Jacques Chapdelaine’s offence.  And dammit, I thought he could, too!  This year, he hasn’t made any predictions. And neither will I.  Suffice it to say, though, that if Darian goes down again, the Riders are in a heap of trouble.  ‘Cause if my math is correct, since September 7, 2014, when Steve got hurt, the Riders have only won 5 games.  FIVE FREAKING GAMES.  Do you see a pattern here?

Part of the Riders’ problems, aside from a defence that would’ve likely been better had it not actually set foot on the field, was the lack of a bona fide second string quarterback. Well, after Kevin Glenn went down.  Which didn’t take long.

After Glenn was put on the six-game injured list, Rider fans were treated to the greatest hits of Tino Sunseri, particularly the REDBLACKS game where he was sacked no less than eight times, and the dancing moves of Brett Smith, who, too, ate his fair share of turf at times.  It was painful.

After Corey Chamblin and Brendan Taman were fired, interim GM Jeremy O’Day appeased Rider Nation by making his first act as interim GM the release of Tino Sunseri.  Brett Smith hung around for the rest of the season, showing some improvement, but he relied far too much on his scrambling abilities, leading to poor decision-making and untimely turnovers.

Coming in the 2016 season, you know that John Murphy and Chris Jones were going to be looking for a quarterback.  Not a starting quarterback, though.  That job is Darian’s to lose.  Quite frankly, though, Jones and Murphy didn’t have much of a choice; they had far bigger roster issues to deal with.

Brett Smith has managed to stick it out thus far in training camp, but his first preseason game performance was less than adequate.  For a guy who was given a lot of playing time last season, he looked like a rookie.  BJ Coleman, the other QB vying for the second-string spot, was shaky, throwing a couple of interceptions.  However, it was his first time in live game action on the big CFL field, so his performance, while disappointing, was at least somewhat more understandable.

QB Phillip Sims was brought into training camp late and has quite the learning cure ahead of him.  And there’s no doubt that Jones and Murphy will bring in other QBs during the season.  For now,  though, it’s Smith and Coleman battling it out for the second-string spot.  My bet is that Coleman gets it – but please, Heavenly Football God, don’t let us need him very much this season.

2. Receivers

no friends

Weston Dressler.

Chris Getzlaf.

Ryan Smith.

All three were starting receivers for the Riders during the 2015 season.  None of them are Riders now.

What did I say about our Rider receivers again after the 2015 season?  Oh yeah:

Find some receivers that are taller than Dressler (I love him, but height is seriously lacking in our receiving corps).

 

Out of the eleven players the Riders currently have listed as receivers on the roster, only four are under 6’0″.  And two of them are 5’11”.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Naaman Roosevelt, as he was one of the few bright spots for the Riders last year.  He will be joined by John Chiles, who joined the Riders after a stint with the Argos, Kendial Lawrence, who will most likely only be in on certain packages given that he will be the primary kick returner, and Canadians Shamawd Chambers, from Edmonton, Clarence Denmark, from Winnipeg, and veterans Nic Demski (can you really be a veteran if you’re only going into your second season?) and Rob Bagg.  Most exciting is that Rob Bagg is being moved to the slotback position, which I would argue is his natural position and where he should have been playing all along.  He’s a hard-nosed player who’s always willing to take a hit.  He’s the perfect guy to go over the middle.

You can’t replace the work ethic, leadership and veteran presence of Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf overnight.  But hopefully this group of receivers will find its identity sooner rather than later.  It will help that Tino Sunseri isn’t the quarterback.

3. Offensive Line

Dan-Clark-TD.jpg

Dan Clark’s 2014 touchdown is still one of my favourite Rider moments.

Last season, Dan and Corey Watman were in a showdown as to who would take over centre afTer the Riders released Dominic Picard, who has since retired.  Clark ultimately won the battle, and Watman packed it up during free agency and is now in Montreal.

So, the interior of the Riders’ offensive line will remain the same, with Clark at centre, and Brendon Labatte and Chris Best at guard.  The offensive line performed well early in the season, helping the Riders become the league’s best offence for the first half of the season.  Yes – the best offence in the league and the Riders still finished 3-15.  Why? DEFENCE.

But I digress.

Xavier Fulton was not re-signed after the 2015 season, even though he’d been the Riders’ left tackle for a number of years.  Not satisfied with any of their prospects, though, Fulton was re-signed juuuuuuuuuuuust before training camp.  The question for Fulton is whether his knees can hold up.  It’s not unusual to see him go down on a play, then get back up, hobble around like a 65 year old man, and go on playing.  A couple of seasons ago, Fulton was the CFL’s best tackle.  Hopefully he can regain his form.  As for right tackle, Levy Adcock played at that position for most of the 2015 season, but he was not re-signed by the Riders when he hit free agency.  Thaddeus Coleman seems to be winning the battle to become the starting right tackle, and because his first name is Thaddeus, I am so cheering for him to win it outright.

4. Running Backs

The Riders had no trouble running the ball last year, as both Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen blasted out of the gate.  Together, the two helped the Riders become the league’s best rushing team.  Well, until Messam was traded to the Stampeders.  And then Allen was cut by the team and is now playing for the BC Lions.

WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS FOR MORE THAN HALF A SEASON??

Sorry.  I lost my cool there for a second.

Right now, I have no idea who the Riders’ starting running back will be.  There are four listed on the depth chart: Curtis Steele, Matt Walter, Terrance Cobb and Johnta Hebert, who isn’t even on the Riders’ roster.

Curtis Steele was with the Argos.  He had a so-so 2014 season, and didn’t play much at all last season due to injury.  Matt Walter is a Canadian who was inexplicably released by the Stampeders this off season.  I prayed for the Riders to snap him up and luckily Jones and Murphy signed him.  Actually, the signing wasn’t all that surprising given Murphy and Walter’s Calgary connection.  Walter is a good change-of-pace back, and he provides options in terms of the ratio.  He runs well and is also good at catching out of the backfield.  Goodness knows he screwed the Riders over late in games on a number of occasions.  Finally, there are newbie Terrance Cobb, who doesn’t have any CFL experience.

Maybe we should just bring back Kory Sheets.  He and Darian can trade blown Achilles stories.

Next time we’ll dissect the Riders’ overhauled defence.

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