Now that Greg Marshall has officially been installed as the head coach of the Riders, its time for him to get down to work. You would think that taking over a team that has been second best in the league for the past 2 seasons would be easier than seducing Tiger Woods but despite the successful and prosperous times being enjoyed by the team, there is still an extensive list of concerns that Marshall will need to address if he hopes to have a successful debut as a head coach. In no particular order (other than the order in which they popped into my head as I was typing) here is a list of the things Marshall will need to address before July.
Coordinators – The first thing Marshall will need to decide on is who he wants heading up our offense, defense and special teams. On O the logical thing to do would be to retain Berry to offer some continuity but then again Berry’s offense was not without its criticisms last season so it’s not exactly a lock. On defense the job will be going to either Richie Hall or Corey Chamblain (tough choice between a proven vet and a promsing up and comer). There’s also the matter of what to do about Etch. Marshall and Etch have pretty much polar opposite philosophies on D so I can’t see Etch staying on as DC but maybe there’s room for him as an assistant (doubtful but you never know). On special teams the decision is far easier since appointing a retarded, 3 legged, blind antelope would be an improvement over the status quo (though I have no idea how we’d go about finding one, let alone getting it to sign a contract).
Special Teams – On the topic of special teams, Marshall has his work cut out for him with this phase of the game. With the exception of the phenomenal punting (and moustache) of Eddie Johnson, our special teams unit was an embarrassment and a laughing stock. No return game (not just gaining yards but even just catching the ball proved a difficult task for us); no ability to run a fake or defend one (even though said retarded, 3 legged, blind antelope saw it coming a mile away); repeatedly allowing kicks to be blocked and even trouble covering kicks at times.
Kicking – Thanks to the ineptness of the above mentioned special teams unit, we have an issue at kicker. Luca Congi is doing his darndest at rehab but there are serious doubts that he will be ready to get back on the field until well into the season and even then we don’t know if his injury will affect his abilities on the field. So for the short (and possibly long) term we need to find a kicker… preferably Canadian kicker. Warren Keane did alright but his range seems to max out if you get too far beyond where you line up for a convert. So we either need to find another reliable Canadian placekicker (which is extremely hard) or fill the spot with an import (which creates a ton of ratio issues)… or get the CFL to amend their rules to allow FG kicking horses.
Run D – We found out the hard way what happens when you get too small and fast on defense… big backs run over you, repeatedly. Our run D tightened up near the end of the season but still finished dead last in yards allowed, that simply won’t do.
Cornerbacks – Simply put, last year we had the worst set of corners in the league and it cost us big time. Morgan is a shadow of his old self, Leron Mitchell (even when his leg isn’t grotesquely dangly to a fro) is a fast guy with absolutely no football sense, Donovan Alexander is falling off the face of planet. The only CB I liked last year was when Tad Kornegay manned a corner during his “rotate through every position on defense” phase. We have a very talented interior in our secondary but their talent will go to waste if QBs can continue to pick on our sad sack CBs in 2011.
O-line – If you exclude Joel Bell and Chris Best, the average age of our starting O-linemen would rival the average age of the Matlock demographic. Replacing 1 lineman is tough enough but replacing the majority of your line all at once is scary… just ask any Rider QB brave enough to line up behind our line in the late 70s/early 80s. Problem is our depth is pretty thin on the OL (well except for the 1 or quarters we can squeeze out of Wayne Smith). Lack of depth hurt us last year and has a large chunk of our starters near retirement the problem will only get worse. It will be up to Marshall to ensure that we have a strong crop of OLs ready to go when we lose starters (whether it be to injury or to retirement).
That’s a pretty big to-do list for a rookie head coach. But when you consider that we were damn close to winning a Grey Cup despite these shortcomings, imagine what improvement in just a couple of these areas would do for this team.