Rookie camp wrapped up today. Normally this means that a few Rider hopefuls would be on a plane home before we even got to learn their name. This year however, apparently the deadlines for cutting training camp rosters down to the mandated 68 plus exemptions (juniors, draft picks, undrafted Canadians) has been extended until Tuesday so it’s unlikely any cuts will be made before them. It’s probably a good sign that nobody was bad enough in rookie camp to earn an early exit. The downside is that the Riders will have to coordinate 83 bodies (at last count) come Sunday when main camp opens which will certainly have its logistical challenges and cut down on the number of reps each player will get. The 83 bodies doesn’t include 2 mysterious and unnamed kickers who participated in practice today. The Riders are pretty much denying their existence leaving only 3 possible explanations for their sighting (assuming we believe everything the team says to be 100% truthful ;) ): Poltergeists, 2 guys just saw a line and stood in it and ended up on the field kicker or Duncan O’Mahony got lost at the airport again while trying to get to Winnipeg.
Though the overall talent level of the rookies seems to be pretty good there were a few players that stood out. DE Calvin Fance showed a ton of hustle and should provide good competition for our vets. LB Jeremiah Weatherspoon should similar hustle and demonstrated good quickness and explosiveness throughout camp. Draft pick Craig Butler has done a good job of validating his status as our top draft choice. WR Terrence Nunn as been the most consistent performer among the receivers. And RB Brandon West has been turning some heads with his speed and pass catching abilities and should add an interesting dimension in the competition at RB.
The rookies are all in tough though as there are very few spots to vie for in our veteran laden team. Here’s a quick rundown of what I see as the top 3 position battles to watch once camp opens Sunday.
Centre – For the first time since 1999 (when TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Lou Bega’s Mambo #5 ruled the airwaves) we are in need of a new anchor for our O-line due to Jeremy O’Day’s retirement. Marc Parenteau would appear to be the early favourite as he is the most experienced but he will be pushed hard by Nick Hutchins who we have been grooming since drafting him in 2009. Also in the mix will be youngsters Justin Glover and Alexander Krausnick-Groh (who can be considered long shots) as well as the emergency back-up Gene Makowsky (who’s head size and age are both greater than the sum of the 2 aforementioned youngsters).
Starting Receivers - Thanks to Da Bears and flimsy ACLs we are entering 2011 without 2 elite Canadian receivers in Fantuz and Bagg. Getzlaf, Clermont and Koch will be expected to play a bigger role this year. The team is hoping Sisco and Cetoute can prove themselves worthy of some starting reps. We will also likely be looking for 1 or 2 imports to join the mix with Nunn, Wheelright and Hill looking to be the top contenders.
Cornerbacks – Much like our receivers we are in need to 2 CBs this season. Unlike our receivers though we do not have to replace all-star calibre players so quite frankly anyone we put there should be an improvement. Nick Graham should be the lead guy to man one of the corners and the other will be wide open. I suppose there is a chance that guys like Tamon George, Ludovic Kashindi and what’s left of Leron Mitchell could step up and keep that spot Canadian but the more likely scenario will see an import such as Tad Kornegay, John Eubanks or one of the rookies get the nod.
As always it will be exciting to watch it all unfold. I can’t wait for Sunday to get here and for main camp to open! See you in the stands!