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.