Training camp looms and the questions persist about Riders

May 25, 2017 - 7:57am

t would be fair to say no one is exactly holding their breath when it comes to the 2017 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

With training camp opening Sunday and a concert in the new stadium on Saturday night, it would be fair to say more people will be looking at the stadium this year as opposed to the team. The various concerts, soccer internationals and other events are also distractions the city hopes will take the edge off the property tax increases that financed the structure.t

The centerpiece of the structure is supposed to be the Saskatchewan Roughriders. However, there are question marks hanging over the team, from unsigned draft picks to depth at quarterback, running back and offensive line, perhaps throw in some defensive line, linebacker and defensive backs as well. This results in the feeling the Riders gambled on getting Darian Durant back at a reduced cost and, maybe, finding a future starter. But, they are now are pinning their hopes on a career back up with the propensity of throwing an ill-advised interception and another quarterback who hasn’t played in three or five years, depending on how serious you are.

The new stadium buys the team a year, if there isn’t substantial progress made, which can range anywhere from a playoff spot to maybe a 500 record, the Riders may find themselves phoning people on their season ticket waiting list as people debate whether or not they are getting their money’s worth.

Of course anything with Riders in media headline is worth mega-clicks from both Rider fans and Rider haters and this past week has seen news the Riders are dumping Carm Carteri, their long-time color guy, in a move that has been widely rumored for a few months. In addition, the Riders have not signed their top draft picks, a distinction they share with the Edmonton Eskimos.

The Carteri decision was said to be the decision of the radio rights holder, CKRM, who wanted to go in another direction. The timing with Carteri having served 28 years was not the best and the underlying current was that the club wanted the changes made because Carteri would not always tow the company line.

There is a conflict in media over whether a team broadcasting games is supposed to be a booster of the team or have some objectivity to at least question why the club does some of the things it does. If the club pays a portion of the salary of the play by play guy, then they can definitely raise concerns when they feel it is appropriate.

The problem is while it could be argued Carteri was not a yes man for Rider management, CKRMs entire football broadcast achieves neither the professionalism of an NFL production or an impartial media production providing insight to fans or entertainment for casual fans or observers. It is better than most broadcasts, but if the rights holder or the team wants to be consistent, its entire production needs to be overhauled to reflect the heights it aspires to.

Whether it is the post game show where if fans disagree with the company line, they are berated, or better in game analysis, replacing Carteri is not going to improve the product and if CKRM was serious about improving its production, it would have done more than just replace Carteri.

The impression that Chris Jones had a hand in the removal of Carteri plays nicely into the myth of Jones as a southern Darth Vader whose embrace of the dark side is forcing the Rider brand down into the waves of oblivion. It also cannot be dismissed completely out of hand considering the Riders check the IDs of fans wishing to take in practice to determine who they represent.

Those checks, brought in originally out of concerns fans were reporting plays in practice that would get out to other teams, failed in preventing news or questions about the vast number of players taking part in post practice practice from making it to League offices and the Riders getting fined for roster violations.

So while Chris Jones attempts to build a New England Patriot style organization with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, that level of micromanagement is not likely to extent to the radio broadcasts. However that philosophy seems to be playing a role with signing of draft picks.

The Riders have not signed their top two draft picks, which follows a pattern from last year where their first pick sat out until the first regular season game before signing. Rider assistant GM John Murphy said with the new collective bargaining agreement closer to being reopened, the team did not want to invest more money in unproven draft picks as opposed to experienced Canadians or mid-level American players.

That kind of thinking, or Moneyball as it is called in baseball and the NFL, places a dollar value on production cautions prudence on spending on draft picks. When you look at the number of draft picks who actually go on to play professional sports, there are more who are gone in a year or so than who hang on.

So dropping a lot of money for unproven talent when that money counts against your salary cap and you have to explain when you are paying $80,000 for someone to run down a field and cover punts, means sometimes you have to play hardball. Just because a person is a highly drafted player does not mean he will be a great professional. Check Chris Bauman or Shomari Williams for further explanation.

If I had to voice one concern about the Riders, it is that while they seem to have talent, depth seems to be a problem. Shuttling through over 100 players last season is more than just dealing with injuries, but when the dust cleared, it is not clear if the team is better positioned to deal with major injuries this year.

Last year injuries reduced the offensive line to Swiss cheese effectiveness, and this year you have to wonder if the offensive line gets hit with injuries again, or if say Henoc Muamba goes down with an injury, do the Riders have the depth to compensate like Calgary seems to have?

Speaking of depth, the Riders announced Matt Mauk, formerly of Missouri, will be the fifth quarterback in camp. Other than reducing the workload, its’ hard to say if he will play any substantial role. Of course with camp opening on Sunday, there may be any number of changes in the roster, but while there is

academic interest in how the team will perform, expectations of either a playoff spot or better seem to be tempered by the reality the team may be further than it it thought it would be from contention. Whether the Riders have the depth to contend, either through the west or in a cross over situation, will depend a lot on luck, and a lot on whether the team buys into the concepts that Chris Jones is trying to sell.

And that is the big question heading into training camp 2017.

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