2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 2 of 4 – East Division

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For many years, the CFL’s East Division was often referred to as the LEAST Division – especially by yours truly.

But the 2015 season proved to be a season where the word ‘parity’ was tossed around a lot. And for good reason.  Three of the East Division’s four teams finished with better records than three of the West Division’s five teams.  The REDBLACKS had 12 wins, while the Argos and Ti-Cats had 10 wins a piece.  In comparison, only Edmonton and Calgary managed to amass more than 10 wins in 2015.

Weird.  VERY weird.

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Rider Review – Week 3: Deja Vu

lossIt might have been a new week on the schedule, but for the Riders, it might as well have been a repeat of last week.

For the second week in a row, we did not watch the Riders lose this game.

Instead, we watched them give it away yet again.

A glutton for punishment, I re-watched the last 2:21 minutes of the game, and while there were bad penalties, a controversial review of a third down gamble and missed tackles galore, I could not help but think that there was one thing, and one thing only, that should be blamed for the loss of a ten point lead and eventually the game:

Coaching.hoo

For whatever reason, the Riders aren’t being put in position to win.

Last week, it was poor time management.  This week, it was poor decision-making.

Instead of punting the ball away and forcing the Lions to march down the field to kick a field goal to tie while being up three points with 1:00 left in the 4th quarter, Coach Chamblin decided to send in the short yardage team on 3rd and 1/2 a yard.

The result?  The Riders couldn’t convert, and BC was already nearly in field goal territory.

Next, the Riders declined an illegal procedure penalty.  Instead of putting the Lions at 1st and 15, it was 2nd and 10.

A short pass and a field goal later, the game was tied and going into overtime.

Or was it?  The Riders still had 12 seconds to possibly get into field goal position to try and win the game in regulation.

Instead, the Riders knelt down successfully (as Jim Daley, the White Zombie, would say) and forewent any chance of putting the game away.

In the ensuing mini-game, it was 3rd and a few inches and Coach Chamblin vacillated between going for it and kicking a field goal.

He went with a field goal, and the Lions won by scoring a touchdown a few plays later.hoooooo

Two weeks in a row, the Riders have led going into the final minute of the football game.  And two weeks in a row, they’ve not only lost those leads, but the games themselves.

A pattern is emerging – and the pattern shows that the coaches have a lot of work left to do.

Now for Things That Worked and Things That Didn’t.

THINGS THAT WORKED

1. Weston Dressler: Possibly motivated by team mate Ryan Smith’s coming out party last week, Dressler had his best game in quite some time with 9 catches for 122 yards and two TDs.  After spending most of last year with the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s good to have Dressler back with the team on a permanent basis.

2. Running game: Apparently I know nothing (although this should be rather apparent if you read my predictions every week and then look at the actual results).  Here I thought the Riders would be about as pure of a passing team as you could be in the CFL, yet they lead the league in rushing.  The tandem of Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen put up over 170 yards on Friday night, and the running game has certainly opened up the passing game.  Given how successful the running game has been so far this season, it’d be nice to see the Riders use it to their advantage in 2nd and short or 3rd and short situations.

3. Tyree Hollins: While he got burnt on Emmanuel Arceneaux’s OT touchdown, he was more than capable in his first start.  Starting in place of Marshay Green, he did not look out of place and had a few key tackles.  At the age of 24, he potentially has a long career ahead of him as he appears to have the tools to be a solid DB.

4. Red zone conversions: After settling for four field goals last week, the Riders scored TDs every time they were past BC’s 20 yard line.  On the other side of the ball, the Riders kept BC from doing the same during regulation, a big improvement from last week.

effTHINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Pass rush: I repeat my thoughts from last week:  

You ask why it didn’t work?  BECAUSE IT WAS NON-EXISTENT.  A game where John Chick isn’t even mentioned is not a good game.  In the ‘new’ CFL where defenders cannot cover receivers as they once did, a defence requires a pass rush in order to be aggressive.  Otherwise, your secondary is left trying to cover receivers that will undoubtedly either get open or draw a pass interference flag.  The defensive line was supposed to be one of the Riders’ strengths, and through two games it’s been less than ordinary.

In addition, those three man defensive fronts have to go.

2. Secondary coverage: While overall the coverage appeared to be a lot tighter this week (and it really couldn’t have been any looser), it still broke down at key times, allowing a lot of long completions.  For instance, Austin Collie tiptoed along the sideline to score the TD that allowed the Lions to get back into the game.  But there’s still a lot of rooom for improvement, as Travis Lulay threw for over 400 yards and five different BC receivers had more than 50 yards on Friday night.  Yuck.

3. Situational decisions: See above.

4. Discipline: The secondary continues to have trouble with the new illegal contact rule, but what continues to be so frustrating is how the Riders’ offence continues to take penalties that negate first downs.  This time, a TD was taken off the board due to a penalty.  While the Riders eventually got that go-ahead TD, it was mainly due to a number of ill-timed BC penalties that extended the drive.  The Riders need to play a lot smarter, as the number of penalties is simply unacceptable.

OFFENSIVE STAR: TIE – #7 Weston Dressler, SBbah

As stated above, he’s baaaaaaaaaaack.

DEFENSIVE STAR: #37 – Tyree Hollins, DB

A solid game by the rookie, as I discussed above.

SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: #39- Ray Early, P

His punting average was nearly 50 yards.  Too bad he didn’t get a chance to pin the Lions deep late in the 4th quarter.

NEXT UP: vs. BC. The second part of the home and home series goes on Friday night at Taylor Field.  The Riders will definitely have revenge on their minds, and they’ll be desperate to win their first game of the season.  Hopefully the boo birds don’t come out.

Rider Review – Week 2: Close, But Not Quite

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Appearances can be deceiving.

For instance, look at the statistics for the Rider offence in this game:

587 total yards, 477 yards passing, 110 yards rushing,  and 4 TDs

Impressive, not?

Would it surprise you, though, that even with those gaudy numbers, the Riders still managed to lose?

Another stellar effort from the offence was stymied by a defence that could not put pressure on the Arblows’ defensive line, nor figure out how to cover the backfield.  The result?  A 42-40 loss in double OT.

After the game, Coach Chamblin put the blame squarely on the offence.  His comments focused on the Riders’ inability to find the end zone when deep in opposing territory and an ill-timed interception.  As for his defence, though?  A defence that allowed the Arblows to march down the field and score the game-tying TD in the remaining seconds of the game?  Apparently it’s on the right track.

For Coach Chamblin, appearances are deceiving, as he clearly does not see what everyone else does.

Now for Things That Worked and Things That Didn’t.

THINGS THAT WORKED

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1. Passing game: Kevin Glenn, whom I’m now only going to refer to as KG, threw for nearly 500 yards.  When’s the last time a QB threw for that many yards in a loss?  (I don’t know.  Do you?)  He showed resilience after throwing an interception midway through the 4th quarter by leading the offence down field near the end of the game for a go ahead TD.  He also engineered two TD drives in OT.

2. Running game: Jerome Messam had another solid game with nearly 100 yards on the ground.  Dear football gods: You’ve already taken Darian away – please let Jerome stay healthy!  The only mark on the scoresheet was a fumble by Anthony Allen.

3. Ryan Smith: This kid’s gonna be a star.  His amazing somersault of a catch in the 4th quarter brought Mosaic to its feet, and his 8 receptions for 174 yards and a TD put the CFL on notice.

POG

4. Receiving coreI can’t think of one dropped pass.  Another solid outing by this group.

5. Kicking game: Paul McCallum nailed 4 field goals and Ray Early continued to impress with a punting average of 59 yards (somewhat wind-aided).  No longer do I cringe when the Riders are punting or kicking field goals.

6. Punt/kickoff coverage: A day when Chad Owens doesn’t have a big return is a good day for a coverage team.

THINGS THAT DIDN’T

1. Pass rush: You why it didn’t work?  BECAUSE IT WAS NON-EXISTENT.  A game where John Chick isn’t even mentioned is not a good game.  In the ‘new’ CFL where defenders cannot cover receivers as they once did, a defence requires a pass rush in order to be aggressive.  Otherwise, your secondary is left trying to cover receivers that will undoubtedly either get open or draw a pass interference flag.  The defensive line was supposed to be one of the Riders’ strengths, and through two games it’s been less than ordinary.

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2. Secondary coverage: I don’t like to give Glen Suitor a lot of credit, but I couldn’t help but agree with him later in the game as he continually drew the viewers’ attention to the big hole left in the middle of the secondary because Tyron Brackenridge (TBrack) was playing so far back.  The Arblows attacked that hole over and over again, leading to long drives and TDs, especially in OT.  The soft zone defence that the Riders have been playing over the last two games isn’t so much soft as completely porous.  I don’t know if defenders are scared of drawing flags or what the issue is, but again, there’s no aggressiveness in the secondary, and that was its calling card last year.

3. Time Management: When you have the ball with 1:10 left on the clock and it’s 1st and Goal, you DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT HURRY UP AND SNAP THE BALL.  What do you do instead?  Well, first you line up and get the clock running.  Then you wait until the 20 second clock counts down to 1 and you then you snap the ball and fall forward.  Then you line up and do the same thing again.  Then you line up for a field goal.  You wait until the 20 second clock counts down to 1 again, and you kick the field goal, leaving about 10 seconds left in the game.  Then you kickoff the ball, stop the returner, and then let the opposing team try a Hail Mary, which will more than likely fail. THAT is what you do.

4. Discipline: Two facemasking penalties on the offensive line.  A clipping penalty that warrants supplementary discipline.  Many offsides (TBrack – you need to practice the timing on your safety blitz).  Roughing the passer.  Pass interference.  Too many men.  It’s tough to win football games when you’re negating big plays by taking penalties.

OFFENSIVE STAR: TIE – #5 Kevin Glenn, QB and #2 Ryan Smith, WR

I talked about the great games both of these guys had above.  They’re developing chemistry, and it’ll only get better as the season goes along.  It’s nice to have another speedy threat on the field to bring some of the coverage away from Weston Dressler.

DEFENSIVE STAR: #50 – Jake Doughty, LB

No one on defence really deserve a star, but kudos to the rookie who made an acrobatic catch in order to get his first interception in his first start.

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SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: #15 – Paul McCallum, PK

The 45 year old went 4/4 in his first game action this season, and like usual, it looked effortless.

NEXT UP: @ BC. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Riders as they travel west to take on the Cowardly Lions.  As both teams heavily rely on their aerial attacks, this game could be a bit of a shoot out.

Week 2 Recap

What the…??

wow

 

My thoughts exactly, kid.  What is going on in the CFL??

Let’s take a quick look at all of the things I have been so very wrong about thus far this CFL season:

  • The Arblows and Alouettes, have not been the doormats I thought they would be. 
  • The RODBLACKS are undefeated thus far, which I would have bet my ENTIRE YEAR’S SALARY against. 
  • The Schmoes’ defence has looked terrible, instead of the dominating force I predicted. 
  • The Stumps looked shellshocked in their game against Montreal, and lost to a rookie QB who was on the practice roster the week before.
  • Trevor (No Name) Harris has been stellar, as have the Arblows in general. 
  • Bovine Mitchell has started one-hopping throws, which is just weird – but also wonderful. 
  • Darian Durant is hurt AGAIN.
  • The Riders’ leading receiver is some guy named Ryan Smith – aka Dressler 2.0.  (See his amazing 4th quarter catch here.)
  • The Riders’ defence sucks.  

And so on and so forth…

But that’s what makes the CFL the unique league it is – no lead is safe, and you should always expect the unexpected. 

I was 2-2 with my picks this past week, one of which had the Riders losing. (I was kind of hoping to be wrong about that one.)

Here’s a recap of the weekend’s games: 

  • The football gods continue to be unkind to QBs as Free (Drew) Willy went down while the ‎Bumblers hosted the Tiger Cats. What started out as a tight contest turned into a shellacking as the Kitty Cats scored more than 30 points in the first half. Remember when I said that the Bumblers’ defence really didn’t look that good last week? The ‘Cats proved me right (for once this season).  Final score: Kitty Cats 52, Bumblers 26.  
  • What the h-e-double hockey sticks happened on Thursday night in Montreal to make the Stumps look like actual stumps on Friday? Bovine Mitchell missed tons of throws, the Stumps’ defence was porous and made The Rookie (Rakeem Cato in a stunning debut) look like Ricky Ray in his prime. Don’t get me wrong – I’m mostly happy with the outcome, because it keeps the Stumps with the rest of the pack in the West Division, but for the sake of my football pool, well – it kind of sucksFinal score: Les Alouettes 29, Stumps 11.  
  • Well lookee here – we’ve got ourselves a real football team! The RODBLACKS put together another solid effort by beating the Leos at home by a score of 27-16. Most impressive, though, was the RODBLACKS’ comeback when down in the 4th ‎quarter. I’m not convinced they’ll be able to keep us this calibre of play all season, but they’re definitely not a free space on the bingo card these days. As for BC? Le Grand Orange made it through the entire game. That is promising. Final score: RODBLACKS 27, Cowardly Lions 16.
  • I cannot believe I’m about to say this, but BRING RICHIE HALL AND HIS 10 YARD CUSHIONS BACK. At least his defence ‎had some modicum of a pass rush. Rushing 3 linemen and yet allowing opposing receivers to be wide open when there are 9 other defenders in the backfield is simply inexcusable. Yes KG threw an ill-timed interception – but he led the team down the field for a go-ahead TD and to two TDs in overtime. Coach: When your QB throws for nearly 500 yards and your offence puts up 40 points and yet you blame the offence for the loss because it left points on the field, I have to question whether or not you were actually watching the game. John Chick was nowhere to be found today. That’s a symptom of a much bigger problem, which is that this defence has no teeth. Or, to use a more sports-appropriate metaphor, balls.  Final score: Arblows 42, Riders 40.  

A full breakdown and analysis of the Rider game will be posted tomorrow.  Have a great Monday!

2015 CFL Preview – Part 4 of 4: Saskatchewan Roughriders

For awhile there in 2014, you had to wonder…

For the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 2014 season got off to a strong start. After winning the 2013 Grey Cup, the team sought to ride the success of the previous year – but without accounting for the loss of key personnel. The biggest loss for the team was the signing of Kory Sheets by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. Other notable losses included Craig Butler, who signed as a free agent with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Weston Dressler, who tried out with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and Keith Shologan, who was picked up by the Ottawa RODBLACKS in the expansion draft.  And the list went on.

However, while a number of key players were no longer with the Riders during the 2014 season, the season actually veered off course due to a significant injury suffered by arguably the team’s most important player – QB Darian Durant.  After Durant’s injury, the team’s offensive output plummeted – even though it was already rather lacking – and the Riders’ season ended with a loss to the Schmoes.  In that game, the Riders sought to summon the spirit of 2007 Kerry Joseph. What they got instead was a QB long past his prime who threw 5 interceptions in one half of football.

Not content to dismiss the 2014 season as an aberration (thank goodness), the Riders set about making wholesale changes during the off-season. While the veteran core of the team remains intact, major changes to its coaching staff and the addition of a few key veterans, as well as what appears so far to be a much better recruitment effort, looks to put the Roughriders back in contention for first place in the CFL’s West Division.

 

COACHING

You and me both, Coach.

The biggest changes for the Roughriders during the off-season were the parting of ways with Offensive Coordinator George Cortez and Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall. The departure of Cortez was a welcome development for the majority of Rider Nation and not exactly unexpected given the team’s dismal offensive showing, particularly during the last half of the season. While the ineptitude of the offense was not completely Cortez’s fault (look what QBs he had to work with after DD went down), his inability to move away from schemes that obviously weren’t working and a refusal to adapt the offence to the strengths of his backup quarterbacks – even if there were few – showed a stubbornness and a lack of creativity that ultimately led to his dismissal.

Seeking to go in a different direction, the Riders hired former BC Lions Offensive Coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. Notoriously known for his elaborate hand signals, Chapdelaine was not most fans’ first choice, particularly given the rumour that he tends to rub players the wrong way (see his affinity for hand signals). Even though he’s not known as being much of a players’ coach, Chapdelaine was brought on board. So, gone are the days of knowing with 100% certainty that there’ll be a running play on first down. Even though the Riders have only played two pre-season games to date, it’s plain to see that this offence will be much more dynamic and better suited to the players’ strengths, which was sorely lacking under Cortez’s direction. The running game will no longer be the focus of the offence, and the offence is probably more suited to Durant’s gun slinging (according to him) abilities. He will no longer be looked at as a point guard; rather, he will be the catalyst for the offence and be called upon to make plays.

On the defensive side of the ball it was somewhat surprising to see Coach Chamblin go in a different direction because it’s not as if the defence struggled in 2014.  The defensive line had a solid year led by John Chick, and the secondary was one of the best in the league, despite Coach Hall’s 10 yard cushions. The main issue was in the middle – the line backing corps was undersized and untested. However, this was not due to Hall’s coaching; this was a recruitment issue. However, Coach Chamblin has always been known for wanting aggressive defences. In this vein, he sought out former Montréal Alouettes assistant Greg Quick. Not much is known about Quick, as this is his first Defensive Coordinator position in the CFL.  It will be interesting to see if the defence improves under his watch, or if it remains relatively on par with last year’s team.  Regardless, hopefully the days of opposing teams converting “2nd and Balgonie” are gone.

OFFENCE

1. Quarterbacks

Darian Durant remains the key to the Riders’ success. But in 2014, it became very apparent that the Riders had no (pardon the pun) backup plan. When Durant went down with an elbow injury, it was left to Tino Sunseri and Seth Doege to pick up the slack.  You know, the Riders may even have actually been better off with Reggie Slack – the 1997 playoff version as opposed to the addicted to painkillers version.  (“We couldn’t win a football game – the QB was high…”). Sadly, both Sunseri and Doege showed to be woefully unprepared and under developed, although a certain partner’s son would say otherwise about Tino.

NO, NO, AND HELLLLLLLLLL NO!

While George Cortez’s schemes didn’t help either youngster, neither had the ability to make plays when things broke down. This showed in the Riders’ abysmal offensive displays during the second half of the season.

Enter Kevin Glenn.

Random factoid: if you ever go to Detroit and see a Tim Horton’s, it’s this guy’s (he actually owns 2)!

In a full circle moment, Glenn returns to the Riders after nearly 15 years in the league, mostly as a journeyman backup quarterback. Throughout the preseason, Glenn has shown that he can still play. If anything, Glenn might even have a stronger arm this year. The strikes he’s thrown across the middle have been impressive and provide the Riders with the comfort of having a QB that can step into Chapdelaine’s offense if Durant goes down with an injury again. Glenn did not have a successful season with the Lions last year, which was odd considering the number of weapons on that team. However, this was likely due to the Lions’ offensive line issues more than Glenn himself. Glenn is likely looking to redeem himself given last year’s poor showing.

The most important attribute that Glenn brings to the team is quiet leadership. He will not disrupt the locker room, as he knows that this is Durant’s team. He is here to be a team player, to win a Grey Cup and cement his legacy as the best CFL backup quarterback of all time.  And while that may not be every QB’s dream legacy, he enters the season only 500 and some yards shy of passing Matt Dunigan for seventh all-time in CFL passing yards. To accomplish this while mostly being a second stringer is rather astounding.

Now for the main event. We all know that Darian Durant is recovering from an elbow injury.

Darian’s owie caused even more pain for the Riders.
In fact, I have given his elbow a name. For some reason I have named his elbow “Steve.” Throughout the preseason and training camp, reporters constantly questioned Steve’s health. While Steve looked fine throughout camp, it was only when Durant finally played some meaningful football that Steve’s good health could be confirmed. Thus far, Steve looks to be in good shape.
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Woo – Darian’s back!

Chapdelaine’s offense will be a good challenge for Durant. But it may also provide him with some of the best statistical numbers of his career – if all goes well.

Make it happen, buddy!

Chapdelaine’s offenses are known for their high offensive output, so expect to see a lot of passing. Of course with more passing comes more chances for interceptions.  Hopefully Durant will be able to keep those to a minimum. While Durant has nothing left to prove to most fans, there are no doubt naysayers out there that will be clamouring for Glenn at the first sign of trouble and whom Durant would love to silence with a career year.

The only issue with the Riders’ top two quarterbacks are their ages. Durant is now 32 and Kevin Glenn is 36. The age of many starting quarterbacks across really is now under 30 years old: Bo Levi Mitchell is 25 and Drew Willy is 28 (older than I thought), while that Sad Sack Collaros is 26. While Durant is by no means near the end of his career – besides, Henry Burris is still playing at the age of 40 (and maybe he shouldn’t be) – the Riders do need to start developing some younger quarterback talent. Having only one young quarterback on the roster is concerning and the Riders will need to improve their depth at this position.

2. Receivers

If I’m Weston Dressler, Rob Bagg or Chris Getzlaf, I am salivating at the prospect of having a big season. If you look at the numbers of Geroy Simon during his time as a player under Jacques Chapdelaine’s offence, you’ll note that he had some of his most productive years. This bodes well for this veteran receiving corps. Look for these receivers have a much more productive 2015 than they did in 2014 – although really, last year couldn’t have been much worse.

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Actually Rob, it WAS that bad.
These three veteran receivers should also have much more productive years because they have a good young crop of Canadian receivers behind them. Or they did until GM Brendan Taman released them. 2015 draft pick Nick Demski looks like the real deal as he has been featured in the Riders’ offence in both pre-season games. Alex Pierzchalski and Alex Caroll also had strong camps.  Gone are the days of wishing that Jordan Sisco would develop into an actual receiver. NEVER MIND. PIERZCHALSKI IS GONE JUST AS I FINALLY LEARNED HOW TO SPELL HIS NAME.
In terms of imports, the Riders picked up former Alouette Jamel Richardson – and one-time Rider – at a bargain basement price (supposedly – it’s not like the CFL releases salaries). After sitting out the 2014 season,  Richardson seeks to regain his all-star form.  I hope and pray that he does not revert to how he was when he first played with the Riders ’cause he was T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E.  However, whether Richardson’s knee can stand up to a full season remains to be seen. But he does bring more veteran leadership to the receiving corps, and not unlike Geroy Simon in 2013, he’s a target that defences will always have to account for when he’s on the field. Naaman Roosevelt also appears to be a solid signing, and Greg Hardin also had a strong camp, even though he did not see a lot of action in the preseason games.  NEVER MIND.  HARDIN IS GONE.
Overall, the Riders appeared to have recruited a few new good receivers – until they cut most of them. If injuries start to pile up, there may not be the depth necessary to continue to compete with the Stumps and the Schmoes. And thus why I don’t really much like BRENDAN TAMAN right now.
3. Running backs
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Go Anthony, go – AND HANG ON TO THE BALL!

The running back merry-go-round of 2014 will likely continue into 2015. The Riders still have Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen on the roster. Neither running back ran away with (I know – *groan*) the starting position last year, and based on the pre-season, the Riders may just continue to use them both. This is not necessarily a bad thing as each back brings different skills to the table. While Messam is more of a fullback type with a bulldozer mentality, Allen is more of a finesse back, using spins and shiftiness to evade opponents. Unlike the Cortez offense though, neither running back will be the featured offensive weapon. While a running game is necessary in the CFL, especially come playoff time, the emphasis will be more on the passing game, with the running game used as a change of pace instead of vice versa. Look for both backs to be used as blockers as well, as the emphasis on the passing game will require the quarterback to be especially protected. The better blocker may end up winning the starting position.

4. Offensive line

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From practice roster to starter – Dan Clark is the CFL football dream personified.

2014 was a disappointing season for the Riders’ offensive line. The Riders spent a lot of money the previous year locking up Canadian talent such as Brendan Labatte and Dominic Picard and both underperformed in 2014. The offensive line is undergoing some change this season with the departure of right tackle Ben Heenan to the NFL. The Riders also released Dominic Picard and now need a new centre. After the pre-season, it appears that Dan Clark has won that job. Brendan Labatte remains at guard, as does Chris Best. The two major question marks are at left and right tackle. The Riders have been playing an import at left tackle for a while, using Xavier Fulton in that spot. After a stellar 2013 season, Fulton struggled last year, but he wasn’t alone in that. Levy Adcock has been brought in to play right tackle. The real issue is whether the Riders can afford to play two imports on their offensive line. If the Riders are going to go this route, both of their import tackles need to be worth the ratio shuffle. Thus far, it doesn’t appear that either has made a strong case. Yet the Riders may have no choice, as their back up offensive linemen require more development. Or they’ve been CUT (do you see a pattern?).

DEFENCE

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“Trust me – I’LL get the quarterback.”

1. Defensive line

The Riders had a relatively productive defensive line in 2015. John Chick led the league in sacks with 15 and was helped by fellow defensive end Ricky Foley and interior lineman Terrarius George. Ricky Foley was traded to the Arblows in the off-season, leaving the Riders to find a new lineman to anchor the line from the rush end position. To that end (teehee), the Riders signed former Bumbler yet all-star (I know – it’s weird that a Bumbler was an all-star, but as they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while) Alex Hall. Hall joined the Riders for their 2013 Grey Cup run, but was not all that noticeable. The Riders will look to him to have a better 2015.

The interior of the defensive line continues to be anchored by Terrarius George, who’s become a star tackle. Highly underrated, he continues to be a force in the middle. The question is who will line up beside him. Regardless, the Riders will likely continue to rotate defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh and ready to rush opposing teams. The best defensive line continues to be that of the Schmoes, painful as it is to admit, but the Riders will try and give them a run for their money this year.

2. Linebackers

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Sorry, Ricky – some things just have to be done.

Ever since I can remember, Roughrider fans have complained about the team’s lack of a solid middle linebacker. Last year was no exception. Knowing that they needed to upgrade at that position going into this season, particularly given how opposing offences seemingly ran over the Riders at will last year, the Riders traded for former Alouette and Rider enemy #1, Shea Emry. (He couldn’t be worse than Dwight Anderson, could he?) But despite my prejudice, Emry is not only a quality linebacker; he is also a Canadian and a ratio changer. The only issue with this strategy is that the Riders do not have an adequate Canadian back up middle linebacker ready to play if Emry is hurt. While the Riders appeared to have found another quality linebacker in Brian Peters, he decided to try his luck in the NFL and left the team. But Telvion Clark and Jeff Knox Jr. had very strong camps, helping to shore up the other linebacker positions. After a few years of struggling to recruit quality linebackers, the Riders appear to have stumbled upon a few players that appear to have the makings of full-time starters. If the Riders want to keep pace in the West Division, their line backing corps will need to step up to the likes of Jon Cornish, Andrew Harris and whomever the Bumblers and Schmoes decide to put in that position.

3. Secondary

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Defensive back or stormtroopers?

This group continues to be one of the Riders’ strengths. Led by Tyron Brackenridge at safety, Terrell Maze, Weldon Brown, Tristan Jackson and Macho Harris at defensive back, this group continues to excel. The biggest challenge the secondary faces going into the 2015 season is the new illegal contact rule. This will be a challenge for all defensive secondaries, but given Coach Chamblin’s desire for aggressive defensive back play, this will this will be a particular challenge for the Riders’ secondary.‎

SPECIAL TEAMS

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That moment you know when the game is lost…

Besides Grandpa Kerry Joseph’s 5 interceptions in the West Semi-Final, what else sunk the Riders that day? Ah yes – an STD or STI, also known as a Special Teams Disaster/Special Teams Implosion.

(Get your minds ‎out of the gutter, people. This is a family-friendly blog.  Besides – I did not come up with the name or acronym.)

‎Place kicker Chris Milo had a rough year, hitting more goal posts than Les Canadiens hit during their series against the Lightning (teehee). Aussie transplant/Rod Black’s favourite player, Josh Bartel, was awful. His punting almost made me wish the Riders still had Jamie Boreham. He couldn’t punt, either, but he did make some excellent hits!

This year, it looks like Milo has a bunch of new tattoos on his ‎left arm, so he’s clearly going to be better. The Riders punted (heh) Hobokicker (Hugh O’Neill, whose nickname I unfortunately cannot take credit for) and signed Ray Early, an import whose booming kicks remind me of the fun-loving Eddie Johnson and one-game wonder Louie Sakoda (2009 Grey Cup – see his punt in the dying minutes of the game). The Riders are going to win the field position battle more often than not with this guy.

Why Bob Dyce, the Riders’ Special Teams Coordinator, continues‎ to be employed by the Riders remains a mystery to me. I swear he’s blackmailing someone. But the good news is that his assistant, Cory McDiarmid, is back this season (although he’s still listed as a linebackers coach on the Bumblers’ website.  Silly Bumblers). McDiarmid helped the Riders’ special teams become one of the most solid units in 2013, and that solid play helped the Riders win the Grey Cup. The fact that the Riders re-hired him after last year’s atrocities shows that Bob Dyce needs help. The next step would be to promote McDiarmid to *actual Coordinator*, but I guess it’s one step at a time.

In conclusion, this year’s Riders are already better on paper than the team that took the field in 2014. I expect a solid offence that may take awhile to get going given the new offensive scheme, a very good defence that will go through a few ups and downs getting used ‎to the new illegal contact rules, and a special teams unit that doesn’t have to do much to improve on last year’s disaster.

Prediction: 3rd in the West