Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Positional Primer: Defensive Backs

Usually when all of the starters at a particular position from the previous year return it makes for a fairly boring training. That is certainly not the case with the Riders’ secondary this year. The starting 5 from last year (Graham, McKenzie, Butler, Frazier, Jackson) are all back but the end result of camp could be anything from all 5 staying the same to a completely new secondary and anything in between.

Adding to the intrigue will be how much of a difference the influence of Coach Chamblain will make. Richie Hall is back for the 400th season as our D coordinator but his boss has a very different defensive philosophy. Richie is the ultimate zone/bend but don’t break mentality vs. Chamblain’s heavy-man /high risk D from the Chris Jones school of thought. I imagine we will end up with a hybrid of the systems.

Who’s In The Mix: Craig Butler, Eddie Russ, Lance Frazier, James, Patrick, Nick Graham, Chris McKenzie, Graig Newman, Paul Woldu, Tristan Jackson, Macho Harris, Talmadge Jackson, TJ Rushing, Jalil Johnson, Dominic Noel (Tyron Brackenridge is also in the mix but early signs point to him starting at LB).

Projected Starters: Despite the fact that all 5 starters from last year are back it’s actually tough to say. Chamblain has stated Patrick will be at safety and is the only guy whose spot is safe. Butler will see time there as well in certain packages. Frazier and McKenzie are likely safe at HB.  Graham and Jackson should have the inside track on the CB spots but there will be some great competition there.

Thoughts: So much of who our starters will be will depend on what defensive philosophy we go with in the secondary. Chamblain likes big tall in our face guys on the corner (like he had in Calgary) to man up and play bump and run. Hall is more of a zone bend but don’t break guy which direction we go could very much affect who we play at corner. Where Hall might be fine with smaller guys on the corner (such as Tristan Jackason), Chamblain may not be. He may prefer a bigger guy like Macho Harris… which I hope he does. I would love to be able to cheer for both a Macho and Boo.

Based on the differing defensive views between Hall and Chamblain, I think versatility will be a requisite of DB wanting to make this team. That is why Patrick is safe. He can float in the middle as a ballhawking safety when needed and man up (as I assume Chamblain will want to see more of). Other DBs will need similar versatility.

There will likely be room for 7 DBs (5 starters and 2 back-ups) on the game-day roster. Patrick, Frazier and Butler are virtual locks. I would guess that Woldu will get one of the back-up spots. That leaves 3 spots for the other 10 to fight for. That said I expect 1 new guy at most to crack the starting roster.

Prophet’s Player To Watch: Macho Harris

Outlook: If Hall and Chamblain can strike a balance between their styles and find just the right mixture of both to keep QBs guessing, this group should do well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Positional Primer: Offensive Line

This year the hoggies will be putting the offensive in offensive line thanks to the new tramp stamps that will be adorning their ample lower backs… poor Durant.

For the first time in a long time I will not be able to make senior citizen jokes about our O-line. Future Hall of Famer Gene Makoswky retired and old man Alex Gauthier was released (much rejoicing ensued). Also Marc Parenteau who played centre was released. Well technically he played “guy who lines up in the middle” because “centre” actually implies an ability to snap.

Change was needed in the trenches. Historically a solid O-line has been a staple of this team (even when it’s all we had). But last season the Riders gave up the 3rd most sacks and had the 2nd worst run game. While other factors play into these stats, the poor play of our O-line was a significant contributing factor. They certainly weren’t good.

The prospect of replacing 60% of our O-line was made a whole lot less scary when Dominic Picard and Brendan Labatte were signed during free agency. Also the hiring of Kris Sweet as OL coach went a long way to reassuring me. He is one of the best OL coaches in the CFL and has consistently gotten quality results out of his line regardless of what players he is forced into playing.

Who’s In The Mix: Xavier Fulton, Brendan Labatte, Dominic Picard, Chris Best, Dan Goodspeed, Patrick Neufeld, Nick Hutchins, Dan Clark, Alexandre Krausnick-Groh, Ben Heenan, Johan Asiata, Nerraw McCormack, Brad Thorson

Projected Starters: It’s not even projected so much as pretty much set in stone baring injury. Fulton/Labatte/Picard/Best/Goodspeed

Thoughts: The interior of our line looks rock solid. Labatte is one of the premier young OL in the league. Picard is an actual centre (which will be a welcome upgrade). He also brings a lot of nasty to the role which has been lacking in recent years. Best has been improving by leaps and bounds over the last couple season (which he should be since we invested close to a decade worth of development in the guy). I’m not worried about our inside guys.

Can’t say the same about our tackles. I have made no attempt to conceal my hatred for Dan Goodspeed. I even started a petition to try and force him to legally change his name since he is neither good nor speedy. It’s not even like Dan Badslow is that bad of name! I think his best years are behind him (like as far behind him as he let’s opposing DE’s get). But looks like we are stuck with him.

On the other side we have a complete unknown in Xavier Fulton. We got him from Edmonton for a conditional 6th rounder so that makes me wary of his potential. But that said, we got Jermese Jones from Winnipeg for a 5th rounder in 2007 and he played adequately enough to get us to the Cup. He was by no means outstanding but it was good enough. And that’s what I’m expecting from Fulton. Besides it will be nice to get a token black guy back on the line. We haven’t had one since 2009

The battle for back-ups will likely be more interesting than for the starters. We only have room for 2 or 3 back-up OL on the 46 man roster and will likely stash another 1 on the 9-game (err… I mean I predict that some mysterious but legitimate injury will befall one of them). That means that 1 or 2 of Neufeld, Hutchins, Krausnick-Groh, Heenan and Clark will not survive camp. Heenan is likely safe given that we just drafted him and Groh longsnaps so he should be good too. That leaves Hutchins, Clark and Neufeld in a battle. For Hutchins and Clark in particular it’s put up or shut up time since they have been here since 2009 and yet to make an impact.

Then again maybe they are just on the Chris Best 7 year plan.

Prophet’s Player To Watch: Nerraw McCormack… not for any particular reason than I’m still holding out hope that we find an import better than Badslow.

Outlook: Younger O-Line + Kris Sweet = Extremely Exciting! … well at least as excited as you can get about a bunch of sweaty fat guys.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Positional Primer: Receivers

Clearly upgrading at receiver has been one of Taman’s main focuses this offseason. He has brought in at least 7 new guys into camp to compete. Honestly I would love to get excited about this year’s crop but history has made me very skeptical. Need I remind you that recent receiving recruits have included Terrence Nunn, Prechae Rodriguez, James Robinson and Jordan Sisco.  I’m not saying we’re doomed but I will remain skeptical until I see something to change my mind.

This year’s cast of hopeful’s include (in not particular order): two former 2nd round NFL picks, two former 7th round NFL picks, someone who is actually shorter than Dressler (its nice to know the Riders are committed to competition at every position even the token midget one), six guys with NFL experience, a retarded rabbit and a guy coming back from a major knee injury. It’s quite the mish mash of people.

Who’s In The Mix: Chris Getzlaf, Rob Bagg, Weston Dressler, Efrem Hill, Scott McHenry, Dallas Baker, Jordan Sisco, Patrick Brown, Jason Cherry, Taj Smith, Justin Harper, Sinorice Moss, Bogdan Raic, Dwayne Jarrett, Jock Sanders. (Nathan Riva and Brendan Owens may also be in the mix)

Projected Starters: Obviously Dressler, Getzlaf and Bagg are locks. Outside of that there are no guarantees… though you’d have top think that based on experience Hill and Baker have an early lead in the race. That said I don’t think either have any shred of job security if they don’t step up in camp… Hill in particular.

Thoughts: Dressler and Getzlaf have consistently proven themselves as quality producers. That said history has shown us that for both to be successful we need a tangible #2 receiving option to a) take pressure of Dressler and b) keep Getzlaf lined up as a #3 receiver where he is most effective. 

Rob Bagg could be that guy (and here comes the perennial caveat) if healthy. In terms of talent and potential I think Bagg is legitimately only slightly behind Andy Fantuz. Go back and watch the games from 2009 where Bagg was moved to slot to cover Fantuz during injury. Bagg played outstanding.

Getzlaf and Bagg may be the 2 most underrated Canadian receivers in the CFL. Bagg for the reasons stated above and Getzlaf for the following 2 reasons: 
1) Only 3 receivers in the CFL have more TDs than Getzlaf over the past 3 seasons (Jamel Richardson, Arland Bruce and Terrence Edwards).
 2) No Canadian receiver has more yards than him over the past 3 seasons. 

Believe me, I like to rag on Getzlaf for his ridiculously inconsistent hands as much as the next guy but you can’t question his production.

My concern is not with our Canadian starters but rather with who is backing them up. Sadly at this point either Sisco or McHenry are guaranteed a game day roster spot by virtue of being Canadian. McHenry is a decent special teamer with minimal potential as a receiver and Sisco is a steaming pile of crap plain and simple. I am praying that Bamba has a change of heart or Raic/Riva turn out to be outstanding. There just has to be something better.

As for the competition among the imports, I think we are really looking to go big at wide-out. Guys like Baker, Jarrett and Harper will be in the mix and at least one of them will be making the team. Speedters like Moss and Cherry also have a shot at a spot if they can pick up on the waggle and use it to their advantage.

Prophet’s Player To Watch: Justin Harper

Outlook: It can’t be possibly be worse than last year… can it?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Positional Primer: Quarterback

We are heading into the 4th straight season with the same unquestioned starting QB… the last time a QB lasted that long here was back in the Kent Austin days. I suppose technically Nealon Greene lasted 4 season here but I don’t really count that since he missed all but the 1st quarter of 2004, was benched halfway through 2005… plus given his off the charts rating on the scale of sucktitude you can’t really consider him “unquestioned”

Who’s In The Mix: Darian Durant, Colt Brennan, Levi Brown, Drew Wily, JT O’Sullivan

Projected Starter: Obviously Durant starts and based on comments coming out of the offseason training camps it would seem that Brown and Wily have the early lead in the race for the back-up roles.

Thoughts: I realize that even at his best (circa ’09 and ’10) Durant gives people lots of reason to doubt him (he’s a turnover machine and prone to inconsistency)  but dammit the guy wins games!!! At least he does when he has a competent offensive game plan behind him, a centre who can actually place the snaps within a 20 foot radius of his hands and receivers who have the mental capacity to run the routes they are asked to. 

I think Durant is in for bounce back year... this of course assumes that Bob Dyce can devise a decent offensive attack. I’m by no means sold on Dyce given that he was our receivers coach last year and our receivers were for the most part garbage. But given what an utter gong show everything was last year I’m willing to give Dyce the benefit of the doubt and let him prove himself this year. Durant has an upgraded O-line, should have a better run game to take the pressure of him, and hopefully better receivers (lord help us if Taman manages to find anyone worse than Nunn and Robinson). He also won’t have the creepy eyes of Ryan Dinwiddie trying to steal his soul from the sidelines… so that’s a plus.

As for the back-up job. While I hope that none of our back-ups are called into duty, I am excited to see what this brand new cast of hopefuls can bring to the table. Will they be the next Durant/Tate or will they be the next Chad Freifhauf/Kent Smith/Todd Reesing.

Realistically we need just one of these guys to turn into a viable player… and an additional one to show a knack for clipboard holding. And I like those odds. That said I’m going to go ahead and preemptively scratch O’Sullivan off the list, I consider him a waste of a training camp spot and am not sure we are even bothering with him.

I also predict Colt Brennan’s career as a Rider will be short-lived. This is on nothing more than gut instinct and the fact that it seems the more hype there is surrounding a QB prospect, the less likely they are to accomplish anything in the CFL.

Prophet’s Player To Watch: Levi Brown

Outlook: Barring injury things are looking pretty good. We have a stable staring QB with an upgraded supporting cast and some exciting young prospects (minus O’Sullivan) to start building for the future. Only concern is that we are one injury away from one of these newbies who have never taken a snap in Canadian football being forced into leading our offense.

Scary as it is, after Durant, Weston Dressler is the team’s next most experienced passer.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Positional Primer: Defensive Line

If there is one area of the Riders that has been a persistent concern year after year its the D-Line. Since 2008 only the Argos have managed less sacks than the Riders. Quite frankly if you’re looking for sacks you have a better chance of finding them in a group of eunuchs and lesbians than along the Riders D-line.

So as we seem to do every year, we head into 2012 looking to upgrade our pass rush.

Who’s In The Mix:
Tackle: Keith Shologan, Booooooooo Robinson, Mick Williams, Tearrius George,
End: Odell Willis, Brent Hawkins, Chris Ellis, Kenny Rowe, David Veikune, Curtis Gatewood, Matthieu Boulay

Projected Starter: Shologan and Willis are locks. With George and Hawkins as the likely guys to beat for the other 2 spots.

Thoughts: Outside of Shologan this whole group is a pile of question marks. The prospect of Willis and Hawkins off the edge is pretty exciting but that all depends on IF Hawkins’ shoulders can stay healthy (which given their current pace is about akin to hoping  demonstrations in Montreal stay peaceful) and IF Odell Willis can get across the border (which seems like a fairly safe bet at that this point... provided he takes the bus) and IF we get the Odell Willis who is useful (as opposed to the one that was so useless in the second half of last season that you would have thought he was already on the Riders). That’s too many Ifs to be confident at this point.

And I don’t think Hawkins is a lock even if he’s healthy. Rowe looked okay last year in his brief time but it was hard to tell if he was actually good or just better than the other crap we got used to seeing. Guess we will see some training camp. And I’m excited to see what the new guys (Ellis in particular) can bring).

As for the other tackle spot, I’m personally pulling for Booooooo Robinson but that is based purely on name. He will have to beat George the vet and fellow new comer Williams. I’m hoping one of the new guys will win it out. Not because I have anything against George, I just think he would be most effective on the edge or as a depth/rotation guy. He didn’t seem to play his best inside (and he was one of our best DL last year... which isn’t high praise I know but still). I do wish we had a bit more competition at DT.

Prophet’s Player To Watch: Chris Ellis

Outlook: Much like our running game, we are starting pretty much at the bottom of the barrel so there is nowhere to go but up. If we get good Willis that will go a long way towards turning things around. Guess its time to see whether Taman's big gamble paid off.