Preseason Pain

THANK YOU, Brett Lauther, for showing up to play on Sunday afternoon.  Not only was Lauther 4/4; one of those field goals was a 55 yarder.  His kickoff were excellent: great distance and great height.  He’s the Riders’ Player of the Game for me.

If you listened to TSN’s broadcast of the game, though, you wouldn’t have known that Lauther was 4/4.  If you listened to TSN’s broadcast, you’d think that the Edmonton Eskimos are going to win the Grey Cup, so we might as well give it to them right now and not bother playing the season.

Ugh.  Rod Black and Glen Suitor are not a good team.  They reinforce the worst tendencies of each other; Glen repeats Rod’s inane catchphrases, and Rod repeats whatever talking points Glen’s prepared for the broadcast.  Good grief.

Rod and Glen said Edmonton Eskimos QB Mike Reilly was in midseason form.  Really?  I saw two badly overthrown passes and about three or four good ones.  While the first TD drive was penalty-aided, the second one was legit.  And CJ Gable?  He had what, one good run?  Then there’s Shaquille Cooper, the CFL’s next star according to Rod and Glen.  He could be a good running back.  But, as Rod and Glen finally said ONLY AT HALF TIME, the Riders left most of their defensive starters at home.

That context should’ve been noted a lot sooner, guys.

As it was a preseason game, there’s not much of a storyline to follow.  So, here are my rather random thoughts based on notes I took throughout the game:

  • David Watford started the first half.  Glen Suitor said he was ‘Meh’.  He led the Riders on a couple of drives, all of which ended in field goals.  He’s got a great arm, but I wanted to see if he could scramble when things broke down.  He made a couple of nice passes to Bakari Grant, but other than that, his half was forgettable.
  • Marquise Williams was cut this morning.  That should tell you everything you need to know about his performance.
  • BJ Daniels was on the Riders’ negotiation list for YEARS until they finally managed to sign him before training camp.  I enjoyed watching him take off with the ball.  Unlike the other two QBs, Daniels had a sense of urgency; you could see it in the huddle and in his play.  He was also smart enough to call a timeout when he needed it.
  • Head Coach Chris Jones with the quote of the day in regard to the QBs: “There were flashes of really good things by all of them and then there were flashes of things that, like I told them in (the locker room), looked like me out there sometimes — which is not a good thing.”
  • Rod Black is going to refer to Duron Carter as “Two Way Duron Duron” all year long.  Eff.  Duron had a good first half on defense with a couple of good hits, including one that jarred a would-be-catch loose.  His interview with Farhan Lalji was also good.  BTW, Duron wants to be President some day.  I think I would endorse that.
  • Naaman Roosevelt had a GREAT catch in the first half.  But I don’t like seeing him make circus-like catches where he hits the ground hard in preseason.
  • The o-line looked set with Terran Vaughn, Travis Bond, Dan Clark, Brendan Labatte, and Thaddeus Coleman.
  • Marcus Thigpen is so very smooth.  Too bad he’s suspended for the first two games of the season.
  • The Riders held the Eskimos on a third and short gamble and rather than credit the no-name Rider defence, the TSN crew basically says the referees got it wrong.
  • Cameron Judge did not look out of place.  It’d be huge for the Riders’ ratio if he could start at outside linebacker.  Sam Hurl got burnt in the second half.
  • Speaking of the Rider defence, I actually thought it played decently against Edmonton’s first stringers.
  • DB Nick Marshall got burnt a couple of times in the first half, but he made up for it with a nice interception at the beginning of the second half.
  • Devon Bailey had a couple of drops that he should’ve caught.
  • Someone needs to buy Chris Jones a hat.  Seeing him wear a towel on his head was weird.
  • Bakari Grant wasn’t wearing LONG SLEEVES!  What’s up with that?
  • Glen Suitor saying that Johnny Manziel “got distracted” has got to be the understatement of the decade.  Don’t sweep his issues under the rug, guys.  Come on – be honest.  BTW, why are you talking about Johnny M. during a Riders-Eskimos game, guys?
  • Kyran Moore had a nice run back on a missed field goal.
  • Rod Black saying the “winds of change blew harder in Edmonton” than anywhere else in the CFL over the offseason was laughable.
  • Caleb Holley with a nice catch-but-not-really-a-catch.
  • Josh Stanford was a nice surprise.
  • NO ONE should be doing TD celebration dances in the preseason.  That especially goes for #14 of the Eskimos, who acted like he’d scored the winning TD in a state championship game.  Get over yourself, dude.  It was a TD in a PRESEASON GAME where the score wasn’t even close.  You’re definitely an Eskimo.

In all seriousness, this was the earliest preseason game the CFL has possibly ever had.  I will not likely say this ever again, but kudos to BOTH teams for having their guys ready to play only a week and a bit into training camp.  This was a relatively entertaining game considering it was a preseason game.  I’ve seen a lot worse.

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Coach’s Challenge

It’s Year Three of the Chris Jones Plan, and the goal is to make it to the Grey Cup.

DON HEALY / REGINA LEADER-POST

Of course WINNING the Grey Cup remains the ultimate goal.

Last year the Riders came within 23 seconds of the championship game. In one of the odder East Division finals in recent memory, the Riders scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to storm back and take the lead, only to watch future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray pick the Rider defence apart and drive down the field for the winning touchdown.

Being so close – and yet so far – from the ultimate goal hopefully caused the coaching staff to reflect on its 2017 performance, as the same mistakes cannot be made this year if the Riders want to go through the West Division this season.

It all starts with Rider offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo.

I am not a McAdoo fan. (I think I even called for his firing after the East Final.) His schemes lack all imagination, his plays take too long to develop, and he refuses to use a running game to set up the passing game. As far as I’m concerned, there are far better offensive coordinators out there. But McAdoo has a close relationship with Chris Jones, so he’s not going anywhere.

Some will argue that the Riders’ offence sputtered at times in 2017 because of the guy throwing the ball. Kevin Glenn had a solid, if not great, first half of the season. Then he hurt his hand, missed a few games, and wasn’t the same. Brandon Bridge had a few good performances when he came in to jump start a sputtering offence, but by the end of the season, it was fairly clear that neither Glenn nor Bridge were helped by the lack of a running game.

Don’t believe me?  The Riders finished dead last in rushing in 2017.

Source: CFL Game Notes – Game 94, 2017

With Jerome Messam in the fold this season, McAdoo has zero excuses for not running the ball and creating a more balanced attack. Otherwise, teams will key on the Riders’ receivers and take away the passing game, leaving the Riders in second and long situations more often than not.

One thing McAdoo does not have control over is when the quarterbacks get pulled. The 2017 East Final was a lesson in how NOT to manage quarterbacks, as Jones yanked Kevin Glenn, only to put him back in when Bridge struggled. The two quarterbacks took turns throughout the rest of the game, leaving it difficult for either to his rhythm.  Here’s hoping that new quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh will be able to step in and keep Jones from making the same mistakes this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jones’ continual use of two and three man fronts drove many fans crazy last season, as it provided opposing quarterbacks with far too much time to deliver the football.  A revamped defensive line featuring perennial all-star and league sack leader Charleston Hughes opposite Willie Jefferson on the ends, along with Canadian Zach Evans at tackle, should be able to get pressure despite Jones’ tendency to drop linemen into coverage.  Jones is a guy who has a certain system; he finds guys to fit his system rather than tailoring his system to fit the skill sets of his players.  He may now have the players he needs for his system to create the havoc it’s supposed to for offenses.

The other major issue with Jones’ defense was that it was prone to caving in the waning minutes of games, allowing teams to drive the field and score game-winning points.  Remember the Ottawa game where Trevor Harris marched his team down the field for a game-winning field touchdown?  That game foreshadowed what happened in the final minute of the East Division Final.  This propensity is also a symptom of a lack of a pass rush.  In order to compete in the West Division, Jones needs a consistent pass rush in order to keep quarterbacks like Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell guessing.

Chris Jones’ coaching staff has seen little change over the past three years, which is a rare feat in the CFL.  He and his football operations staff have had carte blanche over the past three years to do whatever it takes to make the Riders successful.  This is the year that fans expect results.