Riders find out some new and interesting things at mini-camp

April 28, 2017 - 9:45am

This week has given football fans across Canada a bit of a taste for the upcoming 2017 football season.

Football mini camps were held down in Florida, with Toronto, Hamilton and Saskatchewan trying to get a handle on how their free agent camps paid off. While the Riders had 35 players in camp due to the CFL and CFLPA cracking down on rules, Toronto and Hamilton apparently had many more players, but apparently they were able to separate their signed and non-signed players.

After incurring fines last year for stretching the rules regarding roster size, it was nice to see the Riders adhere to the rules, but then the situation does point out an interesting flaw in the Rider organization. Every team can be said to stretch the rules in certain situations, the better teams know how to do it and how to make it work for them.

Whether that is because Toronto and Hamilton looked at the new rules and figured out how to adhere to the rules while also realizing their goals of looking at players in camp-like conditions, or maybe after the Circus Maximus that was the Riders football operations last year, they feel this year they do not have to evaluate as many players, is something that maybe can be posed at an Annual General Meeting of the Riders set for June.

The main focus of the camp for observers was how Vince Young would like as a quarterback in the CFL. Prior to the camp, other than the signing, the only view of Vince Young was a workout video he posted on social media, which gave no indication of where he might be as a quarterback adjusting to the extra man, bigger field and more motion.

Kevin Glenn apparently is in such command of the offense. He sat out the second and third days of the camp, allowing other quarterbacks more time to get reps in. Bryan Bennett apparently ranked second, while Young and Jake Heaps were third and Brandon Bridge brought up the rear. Bridge might be moved to receiver and had the size for it but part of the problem of writing about a camp you see only through posted video is what you hear from other people which is subjective and there are questions you would like to ask, but can’t so you can’t form your own conclusions.

One player who didn’t show was quarterback GJ Kinne who apparently has taken a job opportunity and moved on from football. Kinne was perhaps most notable in the Riders last game of the 2016 season in BC but was not served by a swiss cheese offensive line or drops by his receivers. Considering how he spent most of the season on the practice roster, Kinne probably thought it was time to get on with his life.

However, a move of Bridge to receiver would fit in with a philosophy of versatility that Chris Jones is trying to establish with the Riders. The small roster size means players who can play more than one position have a greater chance to make the roster.

One welcome surprise was Alexandre Gagne, a linebacker from Sherbrooke who took a turn at long snapping. One of the most under-rated skills is that of a long snapper and a player who can specialize in that can find a long and productive career and a player who can do that function and perhaps play elsewhere can find employment because considering how Rider long snapper Jorgen Hus got injured last year, having another snapper on the roster who can contribute in other ways is a nice way to operate.

The camp wrapped up on Thursday, which was the first day of the NFL draft and this will have a relatively immediate impact on the CFL draft. Canadians eligible for the NFL draft have been known to be taken including some players right out of Canadian university football.

So if a Canadian gets taken in the later rounds, that reduces the round he gets taken in the CFL draft and some teams like the Riders last year, took Canadians taken in the NFL draft in later rounds on the chance they return to the CFL if their NFL tryout doesn’t work. However if you have draft picks high up in the draft, ideally you want to find a Canadian player who can come in and contribute either right away or on special teams until they learn their position better.

So those of us football junkies will be watching the NFL draft attempting to track Canadians and figure out who gets picked and who doesn’t. The other aspect of the NFL is the CFL negotiation lists each team has of potential players. If a player on your list isn’t drafted by an NFL team or gets signed as a free agent right after the draft, they may become available to a CFL team and that might help plug a hole or two.

The NFL draft goes first and then the CFL draft kicks in and by that time the status of Canadian college athletes and the NFL teams that might be interested in them might be determined and CFL teams can then proceed to roll the dice.

There are a few names from the Rider mini-camp to track and Jones said about 75 per cent of the players who were at the mini-camp will get an invite to the main camp. Gary Wilkins is a defensive lineman who is a former Oakland Raider and showed well.

The Riders will be looking for defensive backs following the release of Justin Cox and pencil in the names of Zavier Bingham and perhaps Regis Ball but apparently he had a bit of a lower body injury halfway through the camp.

So while we await the start of the CFL training camps, the Riders will be offering tours of their new starting facilities, May 16-19. Apparently $75 gets you a tour and a chance to talk with players in one on one sessions and through question and answer sessions. This is not a male or female only event, and the opportunity to check out the new facilities will definitely be a draw.

So the season is drawing near. About friggin’ time as Dr. Evil might say.

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