Saturday the Riders will open the preseason in Fort McMurray against the Eskimos. It will be quite the atmosphere in Fort Mac as this will essentially be a large gathering of oil patch workers who will only moderately care about the game and will most surely not be sober. I'm expecting no less than 5 chants than make no sense, 3 streakers and somehow someone's jacked up truck will end up on the field. It will be a successful event if nothing lights on fire.
It seems wrong that I am so excited over a meaningless game that will be played largely by the future unemployed in an obscure location but I'm also a grown man who wears a beard and robe in public so I might not be the best measure of what's right. I'm pumped for Rider football to be back! Since I (like many) don't live in Saskatoon this will be my first real look at the 2015 squad. Not that I don't trust other people's reports but history is littered of the failures of super-hyped training camp prospects.
The game will be about getting a little bit of time for the starters to get back in the feel of the game but the majority will be about evaluating the newcomers and those fighting for a roster spot. The score really doesn't matter but that won't stop me from cheering wildly when we make plays and cursing up a storm when we screw up. Earmuffs children, its football season.
Here are some of the things I will be keeping my eye on:
- Offensive line... but not the starters. They are pretty much set (aside from Watman/Clark at centre) but the depth behind the starting 5 is scary at this point. We need at least one of the Canadians (Paterson, Hart, Hinse, Vonk) to show they are capable if called on. We also need one of the imports (Philips, Richards) to be serviceable because our depth at tackle isn't just thin, its currently non-existent.
- The hyped of receiving prospects, Hardin, Roosevelt and Demski. I have repeatedly said I expect absolutely nothing from Jamel Richardson. That leaves a starting slotback spot up for grabs for one of them. Korey Williams is another guy to watch. He has all the tools but so far a lack of consistency has kept him from starting. If he can put it all together he may win himself from expanded playing time this season. Tons of hype for Ryan Smith throughout camp. I'm not sure I'm ready for an offense that features both short North Dakota receivers as starters.
- Canadian Defensive tackles. You all know I think Derek Walker is freaking awesome. So if we are intent on starting a Canadian DT ahead of him I had better see something from one of the prospects to ease my mind. I will be watching Dylan Ainsworth too because if he can take that next step in his development it will make it easier to give Walker more playing time in the rotation.
- Linebackers. I like that we at least seem to have some competition this year rather than just appointing the "next Bighill" and assuming we've solved the problem. Telvion Clark has been having a great camp. There is also Knox, Doughty and the Rider Prophet Endorsed Eltoro Freeman. I don't ask for much but if just one of the guys I endorse could not end up cut or a giant sack of crap it would really make my day.
- Special Teams. Our cover teams used to be a source of pride but the loses of guys like Butler, Newman, Hurl, and Peters has eroded that unit. In this new return-friendly CFL we need a new crop of fearless kick cover guys to emerge. Guys like Matt Rea, Keenan MacDougall and Joash Gesse need to step up and help solidify that unit.
- Ray Early. I'm not one to call people liars but I have heard everything from: Early is a good punter to Early actually punted a ball into orbit and it hasn't returned to earth. I'd like to see for myself where on this spectrum Early actually falls.
So sit back; make sure you have a roster because the announcers won't be much ahead of you in knowing the player names; grab a drink... better yet, grab many drinks, you'll need them to get through the 4th quarter; and enjoy the first Rider game of 2015.