A lot of questions and few answers as Riders start 2017 season

June 21, 2017 - 4:30pm

The onset of the 2017 season is being marked with the usual season previews, top 50 player countdowns and an air of optimism in every CFL franchise.
In Riderville the air of optimism that marked the 25-25 tie with Winnipeg was blown out by the 42-10 loss to BC which showed Rider fans while their team may have some talent, it does not as yet have the depth. The Riders sat out a number of starters on their offensive line due to injury and it became obvious their replacements while game, were not yet ready to step into starting shoes.
The Riders have problems elsewhere, particularly in their defensive secondary which was flambeed by the Lions receiving corps. Not only that, the multiple set of linebackers the Riders deployed showed only a passing knowledge of how to stop a running game.
On the positive side, the Rider defensive line put up good pressure and it seems clear the Rider defensive strategy will be to put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible to reduce the amount of time the defensive backs and linebackers will have to spend in coverage.
Rider GM and Head Coach Chris Jones said after the game to not put too much stock in exhi bition game scores when particularly the Riders were playing 70 players. The problem is trying to find positive stuff after watching that game.
The Riders cut Vince Young and his torn hamstring, and Bryan Bennett who faltered under the lights at Mosaic and never recovered his back up positioning. They also cut defensive backs Royce Adams, Zavian Bingham, Crezdon Butler, Warren Gatewood and Mark Roberts; running backs Anthony Allen and Quincey Walden; defensive linemen Ivan Brown, Greg Milhouse Jr., Jordan Reeves; offensive linemen Terrence Campbell and Jarriel King; wide receivers Joe Craig, Thomas Mayo, Desmond Reece and Jenson Stoshak; and linebacker Dillon Grondin.
So the Rider roster currently looks like this:
Quarterback: Kevin Glenn, Brandon Bridge, Marquise Williams.
Running Back – Cameron Marshall, Kienan LaFrance, Greg Morris
Fullback – Spencer Moore, Albert Awachie
Wide receiver/slotback – Duron Carter, Naaman Roosevelt, Caleb Holley, Ricky Collins Jr., Rob Bagg, Bakari Grant, Nic Demski.
Offensive tackle – Derek Dennis, Thaddeus Coleman
Offensive Guard – Brendon LaBatte, Josiah St. John, Dariusz Bladek, Peter Dyakowski, Ryan White,.
Centre – Dan Clark, Dillon Guy
Defensive tackle – Linden Gaydosh, Ese Mrabure, Eddie Steele, Zach Minter.
Defensive end – Willie Jefferson, A.C. Leonard, Davis Tull, Jonathoan Newsome, Tobi Antigha
Half back – Ed Gainey, Tevaughn Campbell
Cornerback – Kacy Rogers II, Sam Williams, Chris Lyles, Mike Dubuisson, Erick Dargan
Safety – Mike Edem, Jeff Hecht
WIL – Samuel Eguavoen, Glenn Love, Kevin Francis
SAM – Derrick Moncrief
MLB – Henoc Muamba, Brandyn Bartlett
Kicker/Punter – Tyler Crapigna, Quinn Van Glyswyk, Josh Bartel
Grondin was brought back to the practice roster along with forme Montreal defensive back Jovan Johnson who may have lost a step but may be able to compensate with experience and knowledge of Montreal’s offense and defense.
Chad Owens was put on the six game injured list with a broken foot, adding to the list of veterans signed by the Riders who medically turned out to be physically unable to perform. All this now sets the set for the CFL opener on Thursday when the Riders go to Montreal to face Darian Durant, who was very sharp against Ottawa’s C Team.
If one accepts that Durant is extremely motivated for this game and judging from his performance in just a quarter against Ottawa, and combined with the Riders utter collapse against BC, one would expect an utterly deflating response by the Riders to start the season.
The defensive secondary gives pause for thought and the question will be whether Montreal’s offensive line can hold off the Riders defensive line long enough for Durant to poke holes in the Riders. Add to this the Riders propensity in recent years to be sacrificial lambs whenever an opposing team is looking to honor someone and yo have to say the stars are not aligned for the Riders against Montreal.
The Riders apparently have not come to the section of how to establish a running game in the playbook, so the Riders offensive line will have to keep Montreal off of Glenn so he can hit his receivers. They will also have to figure out how to play pass defense against Montreal and learn to stop the running game because I would expect they will be seeing a lot of running.
So while it is possible the Riders win, it sin’t likely and Darian Durant gets his first taste of revenge against Chris Jones.
On Friday Calgary goes to Ottawa for a rematch of the 2016 Grey Cup although some of the faces have changed for Ottawa. Gone are Henry Burris, Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams and in their place is something yet to be determined. Calgary on the other hand has a solid foundation in place and even though they executed their Grey Cup choke to perfection, they have enough pieces in place to make another run. This time they will be challenged by the BC Lions and perhaps the Edmonton Eskimos and for Calgary getting a home and home series with Ottawa out of the way and behind them would be a good first step in dispelling the ghosts of 2016. The problem is you don’t win a Grey Cup in June so for Calgary to maintain a high level of excellence all season long will be mentally tough but go with Calgary in this one because there are more question marks surrounding Ottawa.
Edmonton goes to BC on Saturday and BC demonstrated it has a crackerjack offense against the sad sack Riders. Edmonton lost an exhibition game to Calgary on a failed two point convert for the win and tied Winnipeg. This will be an interesting game to watch to see if BC’s offensive line keeps Jonathon Jennings upgright. BC’s offense is still short one Chris Williams, but the pieces are in place for a first place run. With this apparently being Wally Buono’s last year, this has a look of a team of destiny. Pick BC to win.
On Sunday afternoon Hamilton goes to Toronto and this marks the re-emergence of Marc Trestman and Jim Popp in the CFL. Trestman’s experience in the NFL was mixed at best, but when Popp and Trestman were together in Montreal, they operated at a high level. Now they take their show to Toronto and giving that operation a look of competency, including dumping Drew Willy and his contract in one of the worst trades in recent years. For Toronto to succeed, they need to keep Ricky Ray on his feet.Hamilton has loaded up for a Cup run after injuries took their mojo away last year. For Hamilton it all depends on Zach Collaros and his health. Hamilton will be transitioning to a new defense under Jeff Reinhold but Toronto seems to have the competency they were lacking last year. Take Toronto in a bit of an upset.
So for what its worth, my predictions in 2017.
Eastern Conference
1st – Hamilton has the veterans to make another Cup run and despite some bad luck stretches last season, may have developed enough depth to better weather any similar injury stretches this year. Hamilton has the pieces to get into first place, but after that it’s a whole new ballgame
2nd – Ottawa is facing the pressure that comes with being a Grey Cup host city, especially after winning the Grey Cup last year. With Henry Burris gone, it’s up to Trevor Harris who when he is good, is very good, but it doesn’t take much to throw him off his game. Ottawa has some unknown pieces as they fill out the puzzle of a Cup contender, but they have the potential to move to the top, or make enough strides to peak when the playoffs start.
3rd – Toronto is facing the challenge of not just competing against eight other CFL teams, but trying to grab the hearts and minds of the southern Ontario sports fan. A healthy Ricky Ray is a good start to a contending team, and winning is generally the thing that brings back the fans. That and a more reason ticket price structure.
4th Montreal – Their win over Ottawa in the final exhibition game may have meant more to Montreal fans under the guidance of Kavis “Consequences” Reed who are looking for a winner to return. It’s an unusual way to build a team, and stripping down the last of the Jim Popp/Marc Trestman team to jury rig something with Darian Durant takes a certain amount of blind faith and perhaps a lot of human sacrifice. While Montreal has done some salary dumping, it will be up to Jacques Chapdelaine to try to mold who is left into a contender, and that is not as easy as it sounds.
Western Conference
1st – Calgary Stampeders – Calgary nearly had a record year with a Grey Cup win but blew it in a way that is not unknown to Stampeder fans. The team has enough remaining to make another run but focusing on redemption all season is mentally tough – something previous Stampeder teams are not known for. It will not be as much of a cakewalk as last season, but there is still enough in place for a first place finish.
2nd –BC Lions – It is Wally Buono’s last year as head coach and he has a team built to run on all cylinders in an effort to ride off into the sunset as Grey Cup Champion. BC has all the pieces from a dynamic offense to a killer defense, but the question mark is the offensive line and how they respond will determine if it is Calgary or BC finishing first.
3rd – Edmonton Eskimos – Jason Maas was entertaining to watch on the sidelines as he seemed to think he was still a player instead of the head guy. He seems to have learned from the experience by handing off the offensive coordinator duties to concentrate more on the big picture as the head coach. The big picture for this team includes learning to deal with the loss of Derell Walker at wide receiver but with Mike Reilly and James Franklin at quarterback, the Eskimos seem set to weather that particular storm. Their offense is not in the Calgary or BC category, but it is better than a lot of other teams.
4th – Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Winnipeg made a remarkable run last year to get to the playoffs and almost beat BC in the Western Semifinal to clinch a return engagement against Calgary who got cocky in an early game and almost lost. That was a feel good story made possible by a defense that got the ball turned over and an offense that managed not to screw it up too often. Calgary’s cockiness in their win over Winnipeg was a foreshadowing of their cockiness against Ottawa in the Grey Cup but the question is whether Winnipeg can take the next step to shut Calgary up and move on to the Grey Cup. Maybe, but probably not.
5th – Saskatchewan Roughriders – So the 9-9 season many thought possible under Chris Jones was nowhere near the reality people wanted last season. For every step forward, the Riders seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot, whether by not adhering to the rules regarding players and practice or mishandling the Darian Durant situation and finding themselves with no real Plan B. The Riders may have improved their talent, but their depth is not there and 18 games is too long a season. They have improved, but not enough to pass their westen rivals and with a new stadium to console them in 2017 while they kill time until 2018, 7-11 is rather optimistic and another 5-13 seems more likely.

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