Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: So Close You Can Smell It

It's been six months since our last taste of Rider football... and even that wasn't exactly the best taste as it involved Kerry Joseph channeling his inner Michael Bishop on route to an early exit from the playoffs. The offseason is excruciatingly long at the best of times let alone when its ushered in by embarrassing defeat.

But hope is on the horizon as training camp officially opens on Sunday May 31. Hooray!! In a somewhat odd case of corporate sponsorship, camp this year is being presented by Coors Light. Not sure about an event dedicated to physical performance and fitness being sponsored by beer. If Coors was really serious about this they would offer a training camp for fans where we could get our livers back shape for the season. Now that would be smart marketing. In fact the idea is so good, I might have to steal it for myself. Patent Pending!

If you are as football starved as me, you have been and will continue to read pretty much any Rider news you can get your hands on. If you are as football starved as me you have also pondered ways to create a fantasy football league based on your kids' flag football league... but I digress. In the coming days, you are likely to read a lot about "training camp battles to watch". Today I will be writing about things to watch in camp but rather than rehashing the obvious (i.e. Watman vs. Clark at centre, outside LB, Durant's arm). Today I want to focus on five not so obvious things to keep an eye on when camp opens on Sunday.

1. Back-Up O-Line
Our starting 5 is set: Fulton and Adcock at tackle, Labatte and Best at guard, the winner of Watman/Clark at centre (I am pulling for Watman because if he doesn't win then using the 4th overall pick on him in 2013 will have been a huge waste). For me the more interesting thing is the back-ups. Whoever loses the centre battle will likely be the 6th OL but my question is, who fills in at tackle if someone gets hurt? No one jumps out as me as the logical fill in. Unless the plan is to insert Hugh O'Neil and hope would-be pass rushers get lost in his beard. We will also need at least 1 of Vonk, Patterson Hart and Hinse to be a viable depth option.

2. Can Taman recruit a reciever?
Ernie Wheelright, Terrence Nunn, Eron Riley, Chaz Schillens, Sinorice Moss... I could go on but this gives you a taste of the "quality" of receivers Taman has managed to bring to Saskatchewan in his tenure. It would be nice if he could find one, just one decent import receiver. Okay, let me clarify... just one decent import receiver without a series of legal distractions. Hopes are high with the likes of Namaan Roosevelt and Greg Hardin (who I'm desperately trying to avoid hyping as that is akin to the kiss of death for Rider prospects). We have an opening among our starting 5 receivers so now would be the perfect time for Taman to deliver.

3. Where do they fit?
Brackenridge, Brown, MacDougall and Harris will most likely be starters on D... as for what spots I have no clue. All signs point to Brack staying at safety (which I like) and auditioning MacDougall at linebacker (in a Butler-type role). Brown and Harris can play LB, halfback or out on the corner. While I expect a lot of moving around in the Chamblin/Quick defense but I'm really curious to see where everyone's "home" position is.

4. The Ratio
We need to start 7 Canadians. Five of those will come on offense (3 interior OL, 2 receivers) that much is pretty solidified. We also know that 2 starters will be on defense. Emry for sure at MLB and likely MacDougall at OLB. But we don't really have much depth behind Emry. Gesse has the size but in 4 years has yet to prove he's anything more than a special teams guy. So that makes me wonder whether we will just cross our fingers and hope Emry stays healthy or whether we start 8 Canadians by starting Rory Connop at defensive tackle. That would give us a lot of flexibility but given that we already have a proven DT in Derrick Walker its a risky plan. We may even start a Cdn DT and then use MacDougall as a rotation guy instead of a full-time starter. I'm hoping training camp will help start to clear up exactly what the plan is.

5. Rotational Defensive End
Chick and Hall will be manning the edges on our D-line and amassing many a sack in process. But they will need to take a play off every now and again and at this point I have not clue who we would rotate in. I'm hoping we sign a couple more d-lineman because by default it looks like it might be Markus White by virtue of him being the only other import DE. The other option is to have a Cdn back-up and go with Ainsworth or Steinhauer. That would fit in nicely if starting a Cdn DT was the plan.

Honestly at the end of the day, I just happy to have football back.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing the 2015 CFL Draft

Tuesday the annual CFL Draft was help and given that no one attempted to draft a dead guy or Jordan Sisco the event can be considered a success (the jury is out on whether a dead person could manage to be less useful than Sisco). Seven players had their name called by the Riders. While it’s still too early to say whether or not the draft was a success (remember that people were pretty excited in the days that followed selecting Shomari Williams in 2010), here’s my take on how the 2015 Rider picks stack up and how I think they fared in the draft.

Round 1 – WR Nic Demski – I love this pick! Demski reminds me a lot of Andre Durie and I would love to have someone like that in our offense. I’m glad we held the pick and didn’t trade down. You are only as good as your impact Canadians and of late our impact Canadians have been exiting at an alarming pace. Fantuz, Shologan, Butler, Heenan all gone. I think Demski will develop into one of those impact Canadians. With the average age of our starting receivers pushing the wrong side of 30, Demski is also a needed step in building for the future.

Round 3 – DL Rory Connop – This pick surprised me. We had a lot of needs and D-line wasn’t one of them. Taman said after the draft they are looking at starting a Cdn at Defensive Tackle which explains the pick.  By all accounts Connop is a strong physical presence but when you already have Derek Walker (a guy I really really like) at DT it seems odd to think you can solve your ratio problem by replacing him with a group of Cdn DTs drafted in round 3 or later. We do have Ainsworth and Steinhauer but they are more ends than tackles. Curious to see where this all ends up.

Round 4 – FB Matt Rea – Of the non-Demski picks this is the one that intrigues me the most. Everything I’ve read about Rea reminds me of Danny Bateman from The Replacements. In the past 2 years we’ve lost Butler, Newman, Peters and Hurl… a huge chunk of our once vaunted kick cover team. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that Neal Hughes may be done, meaning we have a need a FB. Spencer Moore is more a TE-type so having a true fullback in the mix who seems to love to hit people is something I like a lot.

Round 5 – DB Kwame Adjei – By this point in the draft it is essentially a scratch lotto ticket. You pray for a jackpot, more often than not you get “better luck next time” but you occasionally get lucky and win $20.The goal with this pick is to build depth behind Keenan MacDougall so the hope is Adjei can turn out like Paul Woldu who was also a 5th round pick.

Round 6 – DL Tyler Langlais and WR Melvin Abankwah. Langlais will be added to the Cdn DL competition. Abankwah had a memorable CFL Combine for both good and bad reasons. The good was he turned heads in the one-on-ones and was tough to cover. While he beat a lot of DBs that weekend one thing he could not beat was a drug test as he tested positive for steroids. Some are chastising the Riders for drafting him but the issue is not with them, it’s with the CFL’s ridiculously lenient drug policy. I fully agree that there should be a least some kind of suspension for taking roids otherwise there is zero incentive for prospects not to take them in the lead up to the Combine. But the rules are what they are and the fact is any team that refuses to draft people who use Vitamin S put themselves at a disadvantage. Last year some teams shied away from Quinn Smith for that exact reason. Calgary did not and were rewarded with a damn good player. The CFL needs to be pressured to fix the rules but in the interim I don’t fault the Riders for playing within the system (even if it is a broken one).

Round 7 – DL Brandon Tennant. Taman said that he was pleasantly surprised that Tennant was still around in round 7. This is of course a load of crap because like the other 8 GMs, Taman repeatedly and consciously passed on him. It’s not like suddenly in Round 7 Taman was like Wait! Tennant is still available? Why didn`t someone tell me this 3 rounds ago?!? That may happen in your fantasy draft with your buddies but not in the pros. That said Tennant was a highly rated prospect in early rankings but continually plummeted likely due in part to injury cutting his last year to just 3 games.

Overall I think the Riders did alright in their drafting. My big concern is not what they drafted but what they didn’t. Two of our biggest needs were LB (to back-up Shea Emry) and OL (we are down 2 starters from last year) and not only did the Riders not make those positions a priority, they did not draft a solitary of either. Bold strategy Cotton. I would put our starting line-up up there with any in the league in terms of talent but depth is still a concern particularly Cdn depth at OL and LB. Demski is a great addition and Taman actually has a decent track record for finding talent in later rounds of the draft so I guess we will see.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

7th Annual CFL Draft Day Blogging

Live Blog Live CFL Draft Day Blogging - 7th Edition

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Last Minute Draft Thoughts, Mock Draft

I'd like to say that tomorrow one of the highly anticipated sporting events on the calendar goes down but that would be exaggerating a fair bit. The average sports fan doesn't know its going on and most couldn't likely name you any of the top prospects. Regardless, the CFL Draft is tomorrow and I'm excited. Not sure if I should take that as a good or bad sign about where my life is trending.

Last week it looked like draft boards across the league might end up in the recycling bin as pretty ever top Canadian prospect got invited to an NFL mini-camp. To be more specific the NY Giants pretty much just called up the entire CFL top scouting bureau rankings and invited every single one of them. In the end it ended up being much ado about nothing as none of the prospects ended up getting contracts or invites to main camp. There are a couple mini-camps left to go but its looking more and more like only 3 Canadian prospects will be risky heading into the CFL Draft.

The first is DL Christian Covington. He was drafted in the 6th round by the Houston Texans and has already signed a 4 year deal. Needless to say its unlikely he ever comes north and if he does it won't be for many years. If I were a GM Convington would be worth a 6th/7th round pick but nothing more. He may never end up in the CFL but neither do most 6th round picks. RB Tyler Varga will also have some risk. He signed a 3 year deal with the Indy Colts as an undrafted free agent. He's far less risky than Covington but the general thought is that Varga will stick for a year or two minimum. He would be worth a 3rd or 4th round pick. Lastly, OL Brett Boyko (another in the long line of Saskatchewan OL products) signed a free agent deal with the Eagles. A few months ago he was projected as a surefire NFL player but his stock has steadily tailed off. He still has the tools to make the NFL but I could see a team willing to risk a 2nd or 3rd round pick on him not making the cut.

Everyone else so far is up for grabs and that means we are likely to see an early run on O-linemen. Mateas, Groulx, Chung, Ruby, McEwen. All seem available with next to no risk so they will be in hot demand come draft time. Word is Hamilton is already trying to trade up as they don't believe the good OL will be their when they pick at #8. They are not the only team trying to do that and you can bet the Riders are among them. The #6 may be one too late for the top end OL they covet.I expect some movement of the first round picks come Tuesday. I just hope it doesn't get as crazy as it did last year when pretty much every pick got swapped.

We will have to tune in tomorrow night. If you are a draft junkie like me, or just desperate to discuss something football related that doesn't relate to the firmness of balls join me for my 7th Annual Live Draft Day Blogging. Join in to discuss the picks, analyze the moves or just make fun of people.

I will end today with my annual Mock Draft. This year I will only be doing the first two rounds. Last year I was crazy enough to attempt a full 7 round mock. To be perfectly honest after round 3 it was nothing but wild ass guessing and the later round predictions ended-up being as accurate as a Troy Smith deep pass. I can't promise this year's version will be any more accurate but it will feature less wild-ass guessing.

Rider Prophet Mock Draft

Round 1
1 - Ottawa - OL Alex Mateas - The top draft prospects are O-linemen, Ottawa needs O-linemen. Makes too much sense not to happen.
2 - Winnipeg - OL Suhk Chung - Better protection for Willy is one of Kyle Walters' top priorities (that and replacing the Etch-o-Sketch defense), Chung is a physical interior lineman and that's just what Winnipeg needs
3 - Toronto - OL Danny Groulx - Might be tempting for Jim Barker to take a receiver but they need to build depth at OL.
4 - Montreal - OL Sean McEwen - For me this is the wild card pick of the first round. Logic would say Montreal continues the run on OL but my gut tells me Jim Popp might trade down and nab a D-lineman. They don't historically draft receivers and its too early for a DL to go, so if they keep the pick.
5 - BC - OL Jacob Ruby - I could see Buono taking Chris Ackie here under normal circumstances but his OL really needs help so can't afford to get fancy.
6 - Saskatchewan- OL Karl Lavoie - Tough draft spot for the Riders, they will likely miss out on the top end OL. That means they either need to reach for a less heralded OL prospect or go a different route. if they keep the pick I think they go OL but trading down to get 2nd rounds picks looks very liekly unless one of the first 5 teams doesn't take an OL.
7 - Edmonton- DB Trevaughn Campbell - Hervey agressively targets guys he likes and Campbell is one of those guys
8 - Hamilton - WR Lemar Durant - Ticats really want an OL and may trade this pick and a Cdn DL like Brian Bulke to move up and get one. If they keep the pick I can't see them letting Durant slip bye them given the injury to Spencer Watt and the offseason loss of Guigere.
9 - Calgary - OL Brett Boyko - This is likely a long-shot but the Stamps have depth everywhere and could afford this risk.

Round 2
10 - Ottawa - DB Chris Ackie
11- Winnipeg - WR Nic Demski
12 - Toronto - LB Byron Archambault
13 - Montreal - DL Daryl Waud
14 - BC - RB Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
15 - Winnnipeg (via Sask) - LB Nick Shortill
16 - Edmonton- DL Maxx Forde
17 - Hamilton - OL James Bodanis
18 - Calgary - WR Addison Richards

Friday, May 8, 2015

CFL Draft 2015 Team Preview: Calgary Stampeders

We conclude our team previews with the Stamps. Not surprisingly the reigning champs manage their Canadian depth better than pretty much any team out there. 
Picks: 8 picks, first selection is 9th Overall

2014 Draft Assessment: The rich got richer. They entered the draft with arguably the best Canadian content and were able to further build on that with 3 picks in the top 16 and 6 in the top 25. Trading for the #1 pick to grab Pierre Lavertu looks like a stroke of genius now that Brett Jones left.They also ignored the steroid issues of Quinn Smith a nabbed him in round 1 (he got 4 sacks in his rookie campaign). Add in DB Adam Thibault who is raw but has high potnential and you have a pretty successful draft class even before factoring in the rights to OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff and the other players they got.

Potential Pipeline: OL Laurent-Duvernay-Tardif (Kansas City)

Current Strengths: The most impressive thing about the Stamps is that they always have talent waiting in the wings to step up and take the place of someone who departs or goes down to injury. The CFL’s top linemen in Brett Jones jumps to the NFL, they have Pierre Lavertu ready to take his place. Lose Keenan MacDougall to the Riders, Adam Thibault the next man up. Brad Sinopli heads to Ottawa, no worries because Anthony Parker and Simon Charboneau-Campeau are stepping up their game. Hufnagel always seems to be one step ahead it’s a big reason why the Stamps are always among the best teams in the League. One thing I bet not many noticed during the Stamps 15-3 season was the fact that of their Canadian starters, Brett Jones was the only one to start all 18 games.
Current Needs: They have enviable depth at virtually every position so it’s hard to say they have any real needs. They have the luxury of drafting the best player available regardless of position. They are likely to be looking for a WR, OL and DB/LB given the departures of Brad Sinopoli, Brett Jones and Keenan MacDougall.

Prediction: Calgary has a history of taking risks on OL prospects they may have to wait on such as Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Brander Craighead and John Bender. As such it would not surprise me to see them target Brett Boyko in Round 1. Lemar Durant may be another who garners their interest.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CFL Draft 2015 Team Preview: Edmonton Eskimos

Picks: 5 picks, first selection is 7th Overall

2014 Draft Assessment: Despite a glaring need at OL Ed Hervey opted to forgo logic and take a receiver (the position they were likely the deepest at) in Round 1. Devon Bailey showed promise in his rookie season so it wasn’t a wasted pick just a very weird one. Beyond that there wasn’t much to show for this draft class. RB Aaron Milton saw a couple games on special teams, DB Raye Hartmann stuck around on the practice roster… but that’s about it. The Esks did a lot of good things in 2014… this draft was not one of them though.

Potential Pipeline: DL Stephan Charles (Buffalo), LS Jorgen Hus (recently cut by Kansas City), OL Austin Paztor (Jacksonville), K Shaun Suisham (Pittsburgh), LS LP Ladouceur (Dallas)

Current Strengths: Starts at receiver where they have 3 first round picks in Nate Coehoorn, Shamawd Chambers and Devon Baily. They also have Paris Jackson and Akeem Foster for depth. Fourth year DT Eddie Steele had a breakout year for the Esks, assuming Don Oramasionwu is back to full house the DT spot is solidified. Another breakout performer was Grant Shaw. Prior to his injury he was on pace to be among the top kickers in the league (maybe the Ricky Ray trade will pay off yet J).

During his tenure Ed Hervey has drafted just 2 O-linemen, only one of which is still with the team, the other has never seen the field. So it blows my mind how they managed to turn their O-line from an embarrassment to a strength. A ton of credit goes to departed coach Jon Himebauch (that and improved import OLs). That said the Esks started just 2 Cdn OL by the end of last season and one of those (Matt O’Donnell) has jumped back to the NBA… err I mean NFL. Normally that would make OL an area of weakness but they did add Alex Krasunik-Groh (an underrated player) and Greg Wojt so between them and a healthy Simeon Rottier they should be in pretty good shape at the interior of that OL.

Current Needs: They appear to be crazy enough to think Cauchy Muamba can be their starting safety… something both BC and Winnipeg have already determined is a terrible idea. For ratio reasons I imagine the plan is for a starting Cdn safety so they had better look at contingency plans for when (not if) the Muamba experiment fails.

The Esks do have Ramsay and Sorensen in addition to Wojt, Rottier and Krausnik so in the short term they should be okay but at some point Hervey will have to change his aversion to drafting OL or it will eventually degrade back to the point where Hervey has to blame it all on Rottier again. They should also look to build up the special teams depth. The loss of Joash Gesse leaves them very thin at Cdn LB.
Prediction: I expect the Esks to be one of the few teams not snapping up O-linemen in Round 1. They will likely wait to Round 2 or 3 to target them. I could them targeting a D-lineman like Maxx Forde or Daryl Waud should he fall that far. DB Chris Ackie or Byron Archambault might be other names to watch. I honestly won’t even rule Hervey taking a flyer on Tevaughn Campbell.