Monday, I previewed the battled on the offensive side of the ball. Today we turn our attention the defense and special teams.
2015 was one of the worst defensive efforts (if you can even call it an effort) I have ever seen. So there was little push back when Chris Jones completely dismantled the unit. Odds are there will be only two defensive starters left from the 2015 team when 2016 opens (Knox and Hollins). With new personnel and arguably the top defensive mind in the CFL calling the shots there is great hope for 2016. I mean short of all their pants simultaneously falling down while they create a human carpet to lead the ball carrier to the endzone, it’s not like it can get worse.
Normally when a team replaces their entire D-line, it is a huge cause for concern. For the Riders however, they have assembled a pretty impressive group. Lemon and Capicciotti will be the starting DE’s… at least until Eric Norwood gets healthy and a downright scary rotation of pass rushers ensues. Corvey Irvin will fill one of the DT spots. With the “retirement” of George, the other DT spot will be Caesar Rayford’s to lose. His main competition/only will be Jonathan Williams beyond that there is only really the Canadian trio of Hazime, Agbaje and Connop. It will be interesting to see if Dylan Ainsworth finally gets a legit chance to show his stuff for a new coach as he and Hazime are who I have pencilled in as the rotation guys. Aside from Rayford, guy to watch for me is Marcus White. Going to be tough to crack this team at DE but he has until Norwood is healthy to show he can turn the flashes we saw last year in consistent production.
The starters (barring a new recruit turning out to be a phenom) are set and it’s a damn good group with Greg Jones in the middle, Jeff Knox on one side and Otha Foster one the other. The thing to watch will be if we actually have anyone to provide depth and cover on special teams. Currently only we have one import (Samuel Eguavoen) and two Canadians (Kankolongo and Ogbongbemiga… maybe we haven’t signed any other LBs because these took used up all the letters we had left) on the roster. You will likely see a guy like Marte Sears and another moved up from the DBs. Those are the guys to watch to see if Jones can uncover another Dexter McCoil.
While I believe our front 7 will be strong right out of the gate, I have my concerns about our secondary early on. I’m sure Jones will eventually mould them into a strong unit but there are a whole lot of concerns amongst our projected starters. Halfbacks will be Tyree Hollins (who I believe will be a stud but is only in his second year and first at HB) and Derrius Brooks (who should be another good one but didn’t play football last year). I assume Graig Newman is the safety (a position that he has never played at the pro level for any meaningful time). Though Newman is more talented than Cauchy Muamba who Jones turned into a useful safety so maybe I need to worry less there. Ed Gainey gets one CB spot (I don’t like Ed Gainey and hope he gets beat out in camp… though I sadly feel his veteran presence will be needed at least early). The last CB spot will be an open competition between guys like David Barks, Curtis Brown and Dan Schuler. I’ll be watching them to see if at least one can turn into a reliable DB.
Jorgen Hus will be the long snapper. He’s the guy no one notices or cares about until a snap gets botched. The battle to watch will be at kicker. If I’m a betting man (and I most certainly am) Tyler Crapigna will be our placekicker with van Gylswyk handling the punting. But neither will just be handed the job van Gylswyk can placekick too and Josh Bartel is in the mix at punter (though I expect his contribution to be limited to a rousing game of knifey spoony).