Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Football!

Sunday training camps around the CFL opened, Huzah! ... well the almost didn't but then they did and that's the important thing.

The O'Day/Dickenson era is officially underway as 90+ guys are in Saskatoon trying to prove they are worth keeping around for more than a few weeks. It's a very different kind of camp as there really aren't any starting jobs up for grabs. Certainly there's a chance a veteran could get beat out by a young up and comer in a few spots. But I could probably guess our starting 24 right now and get 23 of the right. Despite this there are some interesting battles to watch.

Here's what I will be following closely.

Receiver - This should be the most heavily contested in camp. You have the vets in Roosevelt and a surprisingly healthy Arceneaux. You got the 3 young rookies from last season back for year 2 in Evans,  Moore (who I think is in a for a big year) and Cannon (who the team is very high on). Just watching those 5 battle for the starting roles will be fun. Toss the new crop of receivers vying to be the next Moore/Evans/Lambert. Then there is the Canadian side of things where our two big new rookies will have everyone's attention. After what seems like a decade on our practice roster I will be interested to see if Mitch Picton finally gets a chance to step up. Cory Watson is still there but in an ideal world he becomes expendable of suffers an "injury" just before game 1.

O-Line - Cofield and Coleman will man the tackles (and with a chance to play from day 1 I think Cofield will have great year). I can tell you that in some capacity Labatte, Blake, Bladek, Schram, Shepley and Clark (when healthy) will as well. But who the starting 3 are and who the dedicated 6th OL are and up in the air. Looks like Blake-Labatte-Bladek are the starters for now but that could change.

D-line - Five of our 6 man rotation will be Hughes, Johnson, Evans, Leonard, Geter but there is one spot left. Mak Henry is currently in that spot but we have Mafuta, Breton and Dabire in the mix and also could go american there with Edwards or one of the new guys.

QB - Normally the most intriguing part of camp the interest here is pretty minimal (beyond monitoring the Collaros Concussion Count). Collaros will start. Fajardo will back-up the only thing left to decide is whether Isaac Harker can beat out Watford for the 3rd spot. Watford has the edge in terms of experience with it being his 3rd year here. But He's essentially a faster Michael Bishop... strong arm, not strong on the mental aspect of the game. Normally you'd be OK keeping a speedy QB like that around to run your sneaks but Nick Marshall stole that role so if Harker can show any kind of upside in terms of actually being a QB that can do more than run and throw far then you might opt to keep him around and develop him. That said with the amount of hype Harker already has 1 day into main camp I have this sinking feeling he's doomed to flame out gloriously come the pre-season.

DB - Starters are set in Marshall-Gainey-Edem-Purifoy-Butler with Bouka as the depth. But I do believe that if we found another Marshall-type recruit that Butler's spot could be at risk. 

We are just 11 days away from preseason action. Get your family time while you still can and start prepping your liver... Rider season is coming.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Elimimian And Other Thoughts

I was going to try and be like lots of other writers out there an open with a clever pun involving a play on Solomon Elimimian (Better Call Sol is a popular one). But the best I was able to come up with was “Me So Solly” so I gave up on that. Don’t worry, at some point I will bring back Me So Solly.

But enough about the internal monologue of my blog drafting time. The Riders signed Solomon Elimimian last week. It’s a pretty big signing. Yes he’s getting up there in age and yes he’s coming off injury but the fact remains he’s arguably the best middle linebacker in the CFL. 4 time all-star, 2 time defensive player of the year, one time MOP. For as much as take shots at Sam Hurl, he was actually not  terrible last season (Judge also showed promise)… but isn’t it nice to able to say something more positive than “he wasn’t terrible” about a key member of your defense. Also, its not like injuries are piling up on Elimimian. He had a knee a few years back and a wrist this season. For a guy who hits people hard 140 times a season, I’d say he’s been pretty durable. I don’t think he’s the same MOP guy he was in 2014 but he’s still miles better than most people. Just look at the middle of our D: Evans, Johnson and Elimimian.

My only concern is the trend regarding our top players. What do Charleston Hughes, Solomon Elimiman, Manny Arceneaux, Naaman Roosevelt, William Powell all have in common? They are old. We are putting a lot of our hopes on people the wrong side of 30. Now we have a lot of young guys too (I seem to remember we had one of the youngest rosters last season but am too lazy to look it up) so adding some strong vets is not a bad idea (worked okay in 2013). Still I wish we had just a bit less riding on guys having one more great season in them.

Quick Hitters:
·        The philosophy of our team will be unchanged in 2019. Great D and adequate offense. Our postseason success is based purely on whether Collaros is healthy when playoffs roll around. We are not hiding our strategy. Meet the new Riders, same as the old Riders. But hey… the lack of Brandon Bridge has got to be a plus.
-    Dan Clark is lucky to be alive. Seriously. I have been campaigning for a different centre for years now but this is certainly not what I had in mind. Hope for a speedy recovery.
·        First Round Pick Justin McInnis was not offered an NFL contract after 2 minicamps. Odds of him being at training camp are trending up.
·        I remain confident that despite all the grandstanding on both sides, a deal between the CFLPA and league will occur at the 11th hour.
·        If not I’m offering my services as a replacement player. I’m no Shane Falco but can probably smoke a cigarette while kicking.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing The Draft

Thursday the Canadian draft went down. By now you’ve probably forgotten about the German receiver we drafted in the European draft or the 3 amigos we drafted in the Mexican draft (pretty sure one was an O-lineman). But the Canadian Draft is the big one… in that there are currently rules allowing them roster spots and a chance that those drafted will actually see the field this season. (I’m not anti CFL 2.0, actually for it, just realistic about the short term impact of it all).

It was Jeremy O’Day’s first draft as GM and he made 6 selections. Overall I’d say he did well… though as O’Day himself said if you’re a GM and you don’t feel good after the draft then you haven’t done a very good job. Everyone thinks their draft class is awesome at this point. As was widely expected the Riders targeted a receiver in Round 1. What wasn’t expected was them doing the same with their second pick. Though unexpected, given their huge lack of depth at the position, nabbing 2 top end WR prospects is not a bad decision. I’ll break down each pick below but if you know anything about the CFL Draft its that Rounds 1-3 are where you get your top end talent and 4-8 are for depth players and the odd player that actually becomes an impact player (lotto tickets if you will). So while I’m not completely discounting our late round picks, odds are, the success of this draft will be dictated by the success of the top 2 WRs.

Let take a look at the picks:

Round 1 – WR Justin McInnis
At 6’6, McInnis is a big bodied WR who has speed to go along with his size. The Riders haven’t had a top end Cdn WR prospect since they drafted Demksi in 2015 and before that Fantuz in 2006. Sure Jordan Sisco appeared in between there but I’m pretty sure Canadian is the only word that applies to him out of top-end Cdn WR. But back to McInnis. He has mini-camp invites to Indy and Tennessee but well worth the risk, given how few mini-camp invites turn into NFL deals.

Round 2 – WR Brayden Lenius-Dickey
I don’t think many (us included) expected him to fall this far. Like McInnis, he has height (6’5) but at 240 lbs he’s a very different type of player. He’s more like a Lavoie-type who can play receiver but also had the size to play tight end or fullback. He also has a mini-camp invite in San Francisco. Assuming Steve McAdoo can actually figure out how to use a versatile player like Lenius-Dickey (for obvious reasons I will insist on using the second part of his last name) we should be a good add. Let’s all remember that we started Josh Stanford and Devon Bailey last season.

Round 4 – LB Jacob Janke
Projects as a safety in the CFL (where we need more depth) and was coveted because of his strong play on special teams. We already have a solid group of special teams players but in the 4th round this is exactly the type of player you can expect to get.

Round 5 – DL Charbel Dabire
He’s 300 lbs and plays DT… that pretty much covers why we targeted him. Obviously he is a developmental project because players this big who are solid are top round picks. But we need depth behind Evans and Henry so it’s the right position to look for developmental projects. Can’t say I’ve ever seen the name Charbel before. It’s almost enough to make me want to endorse him in training camp… thus cursing him to failure.

Round 6 – OL Vincent Roy
You can’t teach size and at 6’5, 285 Roy has that. Being realistic here as a 6th round pick Roy either ends up on the PR or goes back to school (assuming he still has eligibility) and hopefully develops down the road. The victory will be if he sticks around long enough for us to learn if its pronounced Roy like Roy Romanow or like Patrick Roy.

Round 8 – LB Christopher Judge
I had to make sure I heard right when they said he was the older brother of Cameron. He’ll be 28 when camp starts and hasn’t played in a few years. Apparently he was quite the special teams player in college. Look people may make fun at this pick but honestly he’s as likely to pan out as any other 8th round pick.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Random Quasi Coherent Thoughts

Apologies for not having my usual sentimonies posted on Monday. I went to see Avengers Sunday and was too distraught to think about football. I mean the musical duet was magical, the Thanos/Hulk romantic relationship was maybe a bit much but what really got me was the plot twist around Captain America actually being Darth Vader's son and turns out he was dead the whole time and they only win when they figure out the flying V formation. Oops sorry for spoiling it for people. 

Anyway, back to football:

- The CFL Draft goes Thursday. I still maintain that the Riders will use their first round pick on a receiver. Hergy Malaya and Justin McInnis are the names that jump out to me but Kaion Julien-Grant and Brayden Lenius-Dickey are also options. In the second round my guess is DL or OL. We need a DB to back up Edem but there are only 2 decent ones in the draft and both are facing possible suspensions. 

- Solomon Elimimian has been a topic of conversation across the prairies after news surfaced that he was being released. The Riders are one of 3 teams showing interest. This is definitely a proceed with caution scenario as he's old and injuries are starting to slowly pile up (can't imagine making 100+ tackles year in year out is good for the body). But when healthy dude is one of the best to ever play the position. It will come down to whether the money makes sense. But he is worth exploring. 

- The other name of interest is Jeff Knox. Now he's no Elimimian but he is 5 years younger, more versatile and has experience in our defense. He's also a good player in his own right. He can play outside and middle LB (like Equavoen did). It all depends on how much each of them want salary-wise but there is a case that Knox is a better for for our needs than Elimimian. Also Knox is easier to type, which in my world is a plus (won't someone think of the bloggers?!)

- Maybe I missed something or maybe its just an oversight but Matt Elam does not appear on the Riders' roster on their website. Anyone know what happened?

- The other topic is the ongoing negotiations between the CFLPA and the league. Both sides are doing the best to gain leverage in the negotiations. The League by not paying bonuses and delaying negotiations. The CFLPA by taking a strike vote and threatening to not show to camp. I think that like usual and deal will be made at the 11th hour without any kind of disruption to the season.  If the CFLPA can remain as united as they currently say they are on this reporting to training camp issue it would really strengthen their position but the closer this gets to camp the more I'll be watching for cracks. Easy for Mike Reilly and other top players to not report to camp (Reilly has top hat money) but if you are a new player whose livelihood depends on getting a chance to earn a paycheque a lot tougher to jeopardize that chance.

Friday, April 26, 2019

CFL Draft 2019 Team Preview: Toronto Argonauts

We conclude our team previews with the team currently on the clock. The Argos have the first overall pick after a dreadful season. As much of an enviable position as it is, history is not on their side on this one. Looking at the last 4 first overall picks only one has actually panned out.
That’s not great news for the Argos who really need something to show for this pick. Their last 3 top picks (Ryan Hunter, Mason Woods and Brian Jones) are not with the team. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Picks: 9 picks, first selection is 1st Overall

2018 Draft Assessment: Two of their top 3 picks remain unsigned. First rounder Ryan Hunter is in the NFL. 3rd rounder Regis Cibasu got an NFL minicamp invite and then returned to school. They got a decent special teamer in Nelkas Kwemo but when that’s all you have to show for 3 top 20 picks that’s not great. If Hunter and Cibasu end up signing, then that drastically changes to evaluation but for now the impact is very minimal.

Potential Pipeline: TE Luke Wilson (Oakland), OL Ryan Hunter (Kansas City), WR Regis Cibasu (college)

Current Strengths: McEwen, Holmes, Bomben and Van Zeyl have them solid at OL with a number of others for depth. Cleyon Laing is a stud along the D-line and they have good depth behind him. They also have Gabriel at safety with Woodson and Webster for depth. Offensively Coombs and Cross are key playmakers in their offense. Llevi Noel is solid on special teams and developing as a receiver.

Current Needs: Their top OL are starting to be mostly on the wrong side of 30 so they need to keep building there. While they have quantity at receiver they could use a big more quality there. LB is another place they could look to add. Lastly their kicking game was utter crap last season. While the draft likely does not provide the solution for them there its something they should probably look into addressing.  

Prediction: Logic would say trading down makes some sense for a team with no galring needs but with no consensus #1 pick I doubt many teams are interesting in giving up much for it. That means the Argos likely keep the pick and take an OL. Most likely either Drew Desjarlais or Zach Wilkinson. Bonus prediction: with 2 third round picks it would make a lot of sense to offer one of those to the Riders for Tyler Crapigna. Even coming off injury he has to be better than what they had last season.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

CFL Draft 2019 Team Preview: Ottawa RedBlacks

Since returning to the league Ottawa has been one of the most consistently successful teams in the league (3 Grey Cup appearances in the past 4 years). Now a large part of that success has to do with playing in a division where being mediocre is good enough to be way better than the rest of the teams. But their success has also been driven by their strong Canadian content.

Interesting fact for you from 2016 to present they have only traded away 5 of their picks… total. Some teams manage that in a year. Other interesting fact: the RedBlacks have only 3 people over the age of 30 on their roster.

Picks: 7 picks, first selection is 7th overall

2018 Draft Assessment: It was all about building depth, which is something they have the luxury of doing with a strong set of Canadian starters. First rounder Matt Korte builds depth at OL. Same with second rounder Dubois at receiver. So far the impact has been  minimal but almost every pick is still on the roster so they could yet develop into something with more impact.

Potential Pipeline: DL Eli Ankou (NFL – Jacksonville). They also have the rights to DL Mehdi Abdesmad but he retired.

Current Strengths: They have 6 former first round picks at O-line. 5 of their own plus Philippe Gagnon acquired in free agency, That is some enviable depth there. Sinopoli remains the top Cdn WR in the league at this point and they added 2017 first rounder Nate Behar to further solidify that spot. Feoli-Guidino is an underrated contributor there as well. Pruneau gives them a defensive starter at safety. Latanzio and Klassen give them the needed 7th Canadian at DL. Also their kicker is kinda good. Something about breaking a pro football record as an undrafted rookie.

Current Needs: Too bad they can’t draft a new OC. Too soon? I was working on another joke about how at the combine Ottawa likely blocked prospects from interviewing with other teams as well… but I was honestly too lazy to turn it into something decent enough to post (you get what you pay for). D-line would be a good place to build. They finished third last in sacks last season and while Latanzio and Klassen are adequate they are hardly impact players. Given that they start 2 Cdn WR they could use some more depth there. Linebacker is another place to look. Beyond that they have very few glaring needs.

Prediction: In every single draft in RedBlack history except 2014 they have selected an OL with their first pick. They are nothing if not consistent. As much as they are creatures of habit I think this will mark the second time in franchise history they don’t take an OL first. D-line would make the most sense, though in the past their attempts to draft DL high have failed to materialize (Ankou, Abdesmad). Receiver would be the other place for them to look in the early rounds.

Monday, April 22, 2019

CFL Draft 2019 Team Preview: Saskatchewan Roughriders

What will the first draft of the Jeremy O’Day era bring? I doubt it will be as interesting or whacky as the Chris Jones era (but then again aside from his wardrobe choices, its tough to be as interesting and whacky as Jones). Outside of 2017, Jones did not have a great drafting record. 2016 was abysmal. With St John not re-signed there is no one left from that draft and we got a solid half season out of him (not a great return on investment for a first overall pick). 2017 was a solid draft (Bladek, Judge, Chevrier). 2018 (as I’ll discuss below hinges a lot on one guy). Hopefully O’Day can prove to be a great drafter because the string of poor drafting GMs we’ve had goes back a while Jones, Taman, Tillman, Shiv.

Picks: 6 picks, first selection is 6th overall

2018 Draft Assessment: Not going to go quite as far as to say the success of this draft hinges entirely on Dakota Shepley but it’s pretty close to that. We took a risk in drafting him as high as we did but it has paid off with us only having to wait 1 year for him. He’s signed and will be in camp (of course pending whatever happens in collective bargaining). If he even comes close to his potential it’s a win. If he ends up not panning out then it’s a bad draft as the rest of the draftees are a solid meh. Teitz seems like he can contribute on teams. Breton and Mufata (I can’t help myself whenever I heart that name I picture Scar yelling “never, ever mention that name!”) are developmental projects that may or may not pan out.

Potential Pipeline: DL David Oneymata (NFL – New Orleans), TE Anthony Auclair (NFL – Tampa Bay), TE Adam Zaruba – neg list (rugby), OL Christopher Smith (college), DB Elie Bouka (free agent, we don’t officially own his rights but given that we released him early, hopefully there is some goodwill there)

Current Strengths: O-line depth looks good with Labatte, Blake, Bladek, Clark, Shepley and Schram (who saw some limited action last season). Some definite playmakers on D with Evans, Edem and Judge. Also a very strong special teams core. Good snapper in Hus. Solid at kicking with Lauther, Bartel, Crapigna (and possibly John Ryan). Gagne and Chevrier had 23 and 16 special teams tackles. Plus the Riders should get Radford back who had 24 in 2017. Patrick Lavoie is a solid utility player.

Current Needs: With Jake Harty out again with injury the Riders' Cdn WR situation is pretty bleak. We have 35 year old Cory Watson who has topped 500 once in the past 7 years and Mitch Picton who has not taken a pro snap. That does not instill much confidence in a team that needs to start a Cdn WR. Depth on defense is concerning outside of LB. We have zero depth behind Edem and while I like Makana Henry, I’d like more than just him backing up Evans. Also, as much as depth at OL is good, 3 of them are the wrong side of 30 and another is moving off season ending injury. Can’t just stand pat.

Prediction: With so many good WR prospects this year and our desperate need there, I have a hard time seeing us not taking one in the first round. Either Justin McInnis or Hergy Mayala. In round 2, we will be looking for a DL or a DB. My guess is that D-line is most likely because the DB crop is so thin.  The other thing to watch is whether we are able to move Tyler Crapigna for an extra mid-round pick. You can bet we are trying.