Friday, May 25, 2018

Riders vs. Eskimos: Preseason Opener

The first game of the year certainly snuck up fast. I was sitting down to type my usual Friday post and wondering what I was going to talk about when I realized... holy hell! There's a game this weekend! Guess I better do a preview. 

It may only be preseason and by the mid-point of the game the quality of play will likely drop lower than the value of my investment portfolio (calling it an investment portfolio makes it sound way classier than a collection of shares obscure pornography sites and an unscratched lotto ticket) but its football and I am pumped.

With this game being so early in camp, we will mostly use it to evaluate the newcomers rather than fine tune the starters. Here's what I will be looking for:

O-line - For me this is the number 1 question surrounding this team. We have offensive play makers, we a qb and a solid back-up. If we can protect them and win the line of scrimmage then we will have a big year. I will be looking specifically to see how the Left tackles do. Vaughn remains the lead guy but Cofield is in the mix. It would really put my mind at ease to see at least one of them have a real solid outing. I will also be looking at our depth guys. By default Bladek and St John are our depth so we need to see if they are progressing (assuming St John is even healthy enough to play). But we also need to see if we have anything else depth-wise to fill the hole Zver left when he retired.

Linebackers - It will be interesting to see how we use the Canadian LBs (Judge, Hurl, Teitz, Grondin, Bartlett, etc..) and how they perform. One of them will be starting and this is their big chance to lock down that opportunity. Given that we currently have no depth at import LB it will also be interesting to see how the newcomers do (Jackson, Robinson, Striker). I love Eguavoen and Moncrief but if one of them were to go down it would be nice to know we have someone ready to step in.

Cornerback - Chris Lyles is apparently having a great camp (much to my chagrin) and appears to be the lead guy in the battle at short side CB. Newcomer Orlandus Harris is also one to watch as is Sam Williams (who I was not the biggest fan of last season, he was also the guy Duron allegedly got in a dust up with). 

Canadian Receiver - Jake Harty's injury (a big blow to us) opens a big door for Bailey and Stanford. My guess is Bailey makes the roster now but Stanford has a chance as well. He just needs to show his talent in a game (something he has struggled with in his limited opportunities with the Riders). Also be good to see how Picton stacks up but realistically he is likely headed for a developmental role for now.

Running back - Starting in Game 3 it will be a Thigpen/Messam combo (which by the way would have to be the oldest RB combo I have ever heard of at a combined 65 years), you can bank on that. But we need an RB who can cover games 1 and 2 and be the injury depth (though perhaps Marshall may be back when fully healed). Zac Stacy is the lead guy with Josh McPhearson the only other competition. Need to see most importantly how they block in the pass game. For as little as we ran last season, actual running ability is second to blocking and receiving in our offense.

A few other random names I'll be watching for: DL Chad Geter, DL Gary Wilkins, OL Emmauel Adusei, QB Marquise Williams, WR Jordan Williams-Lambert, WR Shaq Evans and the Rider Prophet endorsed Eric Striker (I mean an LB named Striker? Come on). I would like to apologize to Mr Striker as my endorsement has an unblemished record of ruining people's chances of making this team. 

Lastly, the road preseason game is typically where we play the  Official Rider Prophet Preseason Drinking game. It used to be fun at the home game but I can't afford it anymore at stadium prices (unless any companies want to sponsor me). I will say that this game is on a Sunday afternoon so play at your own risk. I cannot be held responsible for any consequences that result from you playing this game. The rules are as follows:
1.     Every dropped pass or fumble you drink
2.     Every time the announcer screws up, drink (better hope Rod Black doesn’t get the call)
3.     Drink 2 if a flag bearer is out of formation during pre-game
4.     Every time count, illegal formation, no yards or offside penalty you drink. Two if it’s on the Riders. Four if it’s Too Many Men
5.     Every TV timeout you drink (note: Obviously the game is actually being televised but hey, this is a drinking game after all)
6.     If someone calls for a fair catch you shot-gun a beer
7.     If a player who is not dressed gets credit for a stat or penalty, you drink
8.     If a cheerleader falls, you drink
9.     If Josh Bartel scores a TD proceed immediately to the nearest liquor dispensary and purchase and pound one of those really big Fosters beer. (Traditionally this was the Jordan Sisco rule).

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Training Camp Battles

So long work productivity and family time, football is back!

Training camp opened yesterday. Unlike previous years,our roster is mostly set but there are a few key positions up for grabs in camp this year that will go a long way to determining how successful 2018 will be for the Riders. Here are the top 5 battles I will be watching (or at least following from a distance)

1. O-line - Left Tackle
 Based on the talent across our roster I think our chances this season boil down to the one big question mark: Can we protect our new franchise QB? If we give Collaros time to do his thing, we will be successful. If we can't then we are in trouble. Thus there will be big pressure on whoever win the left tackle spot. We are taking a big chance on a newcomer being ready to step into one of the most important places on the field. Terran Vaughn is the lead guy (after spending some time here last season) but will be pushed by Takoby Cofield. 

2. O-line - Interior
We know this, Labatte and Bond will be starting. What we don't know is whether it will be Clark or Bladek joining them and where they will line up. Most likely it will be Labatte-Clark-Bond but Labatte could also play centre. Due to my overt anti-Clark agenda I obviously want to see Bladek win a starting spot (also be nice to have some youth injected to our Canadian starters). As previously mentioned, protecting Collaros is paramount so I will be keeping a close eye on the combo of guys who will be tasked with that job.

3 - Outside LB
We will be solid with Eguavoen in the middle and Moncrief at SAM. The big question is who will start at Will. Chris Jones has said it will be a Canadian. BAsed on Day 1 of Camp Cameron Judge is being given the first chance there (thank goodness!).  It would be huge if we acutally have  a first round draft pick pan out into a starter. Guys like Hurl, Bartlett and Teitz are also in the mix but if one of them end up being our starter that's not a good thing for us.

4 - Cornerback
We have the massive luxury of starting the season with 2 stud halfbacks in Butler and Gainey. The corners are a bit more of a question. The wide side appears to be a battle between old man Jovon and John Ojo. The short-side is a wide open competition. Chris Lyles will be in the mix (maybe he's improved from last season but he still scares me until proven otherwise). Harris, Cutrer and Marshall will also be in the mix. DB is actually one of those positions we have consistently recruited well at (Cox, Rogers, Butler) so I'm not overly worried about this despite the uncertainty.

5 - Canadian Receiver
Not really a key position. Given the talent at import WR, the fact is Cdn WRs will not see a ton of targets but we still need people that can make the most of the few targets they get. With Messam as our RB now, it will also be important for ratio reasons to have depth a Cdn WR to sub in when Messam checks out and we sub in an American back (which will happen a lot). Bagg is the lead guy and unlikely to be unseated. The others bring very different skill sets. Bailey is a big bodied guy who can make the big play. Harty is a bit more versatile and is a solid guy on special teams (He got hurt on Day 1 of practice, if he has to miss any significant time it hurts). Denzel Radford doesn't really receive much but he was a demon on special teams last season and will be tough to keep off the roster. Stanford has a rep of a great guy in practice and rather meh when the lights come on. Be interesting to see where Picton stacks up in this competition. We need at least 3 on the roster.


Other things to watch:
  • Battle for the 3rd and 4th import receiver. Last year Grant and Holley were the guys but a healthy Owens proved he can still be productive. The other Grant made plays when called on and newcomers like Shaq Evans are worth watching. 
  • LB Depth. I love Eguavoen and Moncrief but the depth behind them currently does not exist. Would not surprise me to see Jeff Knox find his way back here (which would be huge) but for now we need to find at least a couple gamers amongst our new LB recruits. 
  • 3rd QB. If at any point this season our 3rd QB becomes relevant then we are screwed. Still I'm curious to see who wins out between Williams, Watford and Daniels. I give an edge to Williams but given how long we waited on Daniels I imagine he will get a solid look.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Early Thoughts On The Roster Make Up

Can you believe that training camp opens in just 4 days? If I had the budget for a choir this is where I would have them sing Alleluia. But all I have the budget for is an imagination choir, so go on... imagine it.

I wanted to address a few of the tidbits that Chris Jones mentioned in last week's Season Preview Conference Call that give insights into the likely roster make-up for 2018.

O-line
Jones confirmed that Bond will be playing guard, putting to bed months of speculation of where we planned to play him. It's certainly a move that will impact the ratio but Bond is a proven player both in pass protection and a physical run blocker. Protecting Collaros is the key to our season so we gotta play our best combo along the line. That leaves 2 likely options in terms of the make-up of our interior OL. Labatte-Clark-Bond or Bond-Labatte-Bladek. Obviously I am in favour of the non-Dan Clark option but we will see in camp if Bladek has progressed enough to earn a starting role (fingers crossed). 

As for Left Tackle it appears to be a battle between Terran Vaughn and Takoby Cofield (though don't rule out a mid-season Bruce Campbell appearance if that doesn't pan out). St John will be in the tackle mix but I expect him to be a 6th OL and only start in if injuries occur. Obviously there is risk in having new players man the most important spot along the line so I guess we will have to hope we've scouted a good one.

Linebackers
Eguavoen will play middle as previously mentioned (cue the imagination choir again).  We will be starting a Canadian at OLB (cue concerned and skeptical looks). The only way I see this working is if Judge is ready to start. Hurl, Bartlett, Grondin, Teitz, Chevrier, Francis, Gagne are all back-ups/rotational players. If one of them is a full-time starter we are in trouble. If Judge is ready to step into a starting role A) it will be a miracle because one of our first round picks will have panned out B) i think a Judge-Eguavoen-Moncrief group could work. We rotate a lot on D so I expect the others to see some playing time but all my hope is on Judge at this point. I hope he doesn't earn the nickname Judge Dread. 

Cornerback
John Ojo will be playing wide side corner like he did in Edmonton. That means that Kacy Rogers' spot is still up for grabs and that Jovon Johnson is not a shoe in as wide side was his spot last year. Johnson could still win the boundary corner but I think our preference would be for a young guy to win the spot... that or Duron (cue Prophet shaking his head in a "please no" manner). I think Jones is putting Ojo in a position he feels best suits his skill set (and a place he excelled at previously). The competition for the other CB spot should be hotly contested.

Man I can't wait for football!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Darian Durant Retires

I had planned to spend this morning discussing the Riders' Season Preview conference call from last week. There were a few significant nuggets of information on the likely make-up of our roster (some of which I like, some of which I don't) that I wanted to break down. But that will have to wait until later in the week as Friday something occurred that trumps that in terms of importance. Darian Durant retired... and he went out guns a blazing.

Before I comment on his storied career, I guess I should probably talk about the way he retired, which has been the talk of the CFL world over the last 3 days. I bet no one expected Durant to be the top topic of conversation. Many (mostly concentrated in our inbred neighbours to the east) are pissed that Durant retired on social media without first informing the team (though he disputes that version of events) and more so that he will pocket a $70,000 signing bonus without ever setting foot on the field for the Bombers. Durant subsequently said he "deserved" the money and over the weekend took to Twitter to trade insults with people with a vigour not seen since he infamously called someone a Dumb F*#*# while still a Rider (which was pretty awesome for the record).

Here's my take on it. Football is a brutal business. Contracts aren't guaranteed and players can be cut at any time regardless of the financial impact on them. So when the roles are reversed and the player does something in their interest that hurts the team, it's hard to fault them. Sure I was not impressed with Mo Price when he did it to us but that was more to do with me not liking Mo Price than me not thinking he should be allowed to do that. Most times the teams are the windshield and the players the bug, this is just one of the rare occasions where the roles were reversed.

Now while I have no issue with what Durant did, I would have preferred if he didn't say he deserved the money (then again I would prefer sleeping on piles of money with many beautiful women but no one seems to care much about my wants). While I think Durant is fully entitled to the cash (I don't buy the conspiracy theories, things can change over a few months and I believe he intended to play when he signed and changed his mind), "deserve" is probably not the right word. While I may not agree with his methods, the fact that he pretty much pissed off the entire province of Manitoba on his way out the door is pretty awesome. Was it the classiest way to retire? Lord no but to each his own.

Regardless of how he retired, Durant will go down as one of the greatest players in this franchise's history. He's #2 or 3 in pretty much every statistical passing category and most importantly did something that only the great Ron Lancaster can top: led the team to 3 Grey Cups in a 5 year span. I don't know how you can call yourself a Rider fan and not find that amazing. For goodness sake there were decades where we didn't even come close to the Cup! What more do you want? 

As amazing a Rider career as Durant had, I am constantly left wondering what if? Think about it. If the Riders could have counted in 2009, he would have won 2 cups (something no Rider QB has ever done). Also had "that play that never happened" not occurred in Banjo Bowl 2014 (you know the one where his elbow was destroyed, because the play way blown dead but no one heard and also Dan Clark whiffed epically on his block), I am convinced that he was headed for another one (the team was playing that good up to that point). I realize that couldas and wouldas are as valuable as Stampeder Grey Cup Champion merch (from either 2016 or 2017, take your pick) but I can't help but think about it. 

He wasn't a Ray or a Calvillo, but in his own way he was a winner and we were damn lucky to have him play for this team and represent this province. All the best in retirement Double D. Based on the way his retirement went down I may need to pony up the cash to see his Plaza of Honour induction speech.




Monday, May 7, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Draft Thoughts, Jerell Freeman

It has become an annual post-draft event here over the past few year. I'm talking about the annual "What was Chris Jones thinking?" discussion. From using a 4th round pick on Onyemata in 2016, to drafting a guy most recently out of football in 2017, the 2018 draft brought the latest installment in that discussion.

By now it should not surprise us. Chris Jones has made no secret about his approach to the first round of the draft... He swings for the fences and has about as much use for worrying about the associated risk as he does for a light coloured short sleeve shirt. He passed on safer options when he took Josiah St John, seeing only the potential of an athletic tackle. He passed on safer options when he took Cameron Judge (To be fair, Judge was a far safer pick than St John). So Thursday when safer options were passed on in favour of Dakota Shepley, Jones was just being consistent. He takes who he sees as the best athlete with the highest ceiling, its as simple as that.

From a purely talent standpoint, Shepley is a great pick. He was among the top 3 OL in the draft, he can play any position on the line, he tested through the roof, he's got game film to back it all up. But the problem is that he has already signed a free agent deal with the NY Jets (my condolences). So there is no chance we see him in Regina before the fall and most likely not for a year or possibly 2. Are we so desperate for Canadians that we can't afford to wait? No. Were there other options that would have had a more immediate impact? Yes. The bigger issue is that Chris Jones currently has essentially nothing to show for his first 3 1st round draft picks (all in the top 5).  Hell if it wasn't for Bladek Jones would essentially have nothing to show at all. It has led to us needing to fill our Canadian content via free agency (Muamba, Evans, Hurl, Harty, etc.) It obviously doesn't make it impossible to be competitive but it does make it hard.

As for our other draft picks:
LB Micah Teitz (2nd Round) - Much like Shepley, Teitz is a fine pick. He's the best LB in a relatively thin LB group. He can have an early impact on special teams and depending on what we do with Judge and Hurl, he could provide depth.  So it was a good pick, but given that we have 6 Cdn LBs on the roster already I won't say this is a great pick. Personally I would have targeted another OL (like Pickett) or at least a DB (like Guzylak-Messam) as we are thinner at safety and likely will be starting a Cdn there.

DL Mathieu Breton (Round 5) - Can't imagine what Jones would see in a 6'7 D-lineman :)  The odds of a 5th rounder panning out are low but additional competition at DL is a good thing so this does hit an area of need. He may also be flipped to OL (which Jones has been known to do a time or two).

DL Tresor Buama-Mafuta (Round 6) - Based purely on name, I already love him. If you say it to the tune of Hakuna Matata its catchy (that's the kind of informative football analysis you can only find here). Big strong guy to add to the DL mix, about as good as you can expect in Round 6.

OL Christopher Smith (Round 8) - A guy who was a starting left tackle in college is not a bad flyer in the final round.

Overall the draft is rather "meh" but if/when Shepley reports we may look back fondly on it.

One last thing to touch on today and that is the retirement of Jerrell Freeman.

Its rare for a player who had such a short stint here to be beloved and revered as much as Freeman was. But he was no ordinary player. From obscure Div 3 beginnings it wasn't until the later part of his second year here that most even became aware of his existence. He did a lot of back-up/special teams duty until later in 2010. I was an early convert to his fan club (though I won't lie and say I knew he was a stud from day 1). He impressed me with his ability to make plays all over the field. I started lovingly referring to him as Freakman. The West-Final of 2010 is probably the moment that most Rider fans can pin point as the starting point of their man crush on him. As Grease-Mullen let a key kick through his useless hands and onto the turf, Freeman slid through the snow and a bunch of Stamp defenders and into our hearts. 

While the 2011 season was painful to endure, one of the lone bright spots was the play of Freeman.  He was indeed a freak on the field. The level he was playing at made it no surprise when the NFL came calling. And once he got to the show he wasn't just a back-up/role player, his hustle and play making ability that he was famous for up here continued in the NFL. Look at 2014 where he had 6 forced fumbles, 2 INTs and 5.5 sacks. He was a special player. The kind that only come around every so often. His path from Div 3 to the Riders to 6 year starter in the NFL is pretty amazing. More amazing was how much he loved this province. He loved coming back here every chance he got and that only made us love him more.

He's one of the most talented defenders I've seen suit up for the Riders and one of my favourite all-time players. My only regret is that we wasted his only full year as a starter on such a crappy season.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rider Prophet CFL Mock Draft 2018

In anticipation of the CFL Draft on Thursday it's time for my annual Mock Draft. In true Prophet tradition, I anticipate some transaction to occur with 15 minutes of me posting this that renders most of the content irrelevant but here goes anyway.

Round 1
1 - Montreal - OL Trey Rutherford
Many have Mark Chapman going here and I could see that but I just keep coming back to OL being a far greater need for the Als than a receiver. Now Kavis Reed isn't someone who adheres rigorously to logic but nonetheless I think he has to see the need to go OL. Rutherford has reportedly turned down NFL mini-camp invites so he is one of the few top OL prospects guaranteed to be in training camp day 1.


2 - Hamilton - WR Mark Chapman
If Montreal takes Chapman then you can flip these 2 picks (I fully expect Chapman and Rutherford to be the top 2, the order is the only thing in question). While Hamilton does need O-lineman, i can't see them letting Chapman slip by them. They seem to be done with Andy Fantuz and need a new stud receiver to take his place. Chapman is the best WR in the draft.

3 - BC - OL Peter Godber
BC needs to rebuild the OL and that means they will be looking for an OL who will be in camp day 1. Godber has a minicamp invite from Houston but that is a pretty low risk thing as few of those invites ever turn into a contract. A safe pick from the Lions to beef up their O-line.

4 - Ottawa - DB Jackson Bennett
With a young a relatively stable group of OL, Ottawa can afford to pass on an OL in first round and take a defensive player. They need depth behind Pruneau and Bennett is a versatile defender who certainly fits that mold.

5 - Saskatchewan - OL David Knevel
The Riders need to build O-line depth and Knevel checks many boxes. He's a mountain of a man at 6'9 (you can't teach size), he's from a Div 1 college and plays tackle. He has mini-camp invites from Oakland and New Orleans but again the risk involved with mini-camp invites is minimal and Chris Jones is not exactly risk averse. Many were expecting more serious NFL interest than just mini-camps so that shoots Knevel up draft boards.

6 -  Edmonton - DB Godfrey Onyeka
Currently the deepest team at OL, the Esks can afford to skip the normal early run on OL and focus on building in other areas.  With as many as 3 Canadian starters on defense, the Esk need to build depth there. Oneyka has the versatility to play multiple positions and have an immediate impact on special teams.

7 - Winnipeg - OL Ryan Hunter
This was the toughest pick for me to nail down as the Bombers could do a lot of things here. Eventually I settled on the "when in doubt, draft the best player available" and "when in doubt draft OL" policies and landed on Hunter. He's signed a free agent deal in KC but the Bombers have the OL depth to be able to wait on him and hopefully be rewarded.

8 - Calgary - OL Mark Korte
The Stamps need to restock on OL after pretty much all of their top OL draft picks have retired or otherwise left.  Korte is the best OL left on the board that has not signed in the NFL.

9 - Toronto - DL Julien Laurent
The Argos could go a few different ways here (OL or DB) but in a draft that is relatively shallow in terms of quality D-line prospects the Argos nab a strong DT in Laurent to add depth behind Laing.

Round 2
10 - Hamilton (via Ssk via Mtl) - OL Dakota Shepley
Ti-Cats start round 2 by using one of their 3 picks this round on a futures pick. Shepley has signed with the NY Jets (poor guy) so it will be a while before he comes north. But the luxury of this many early picks is that the Ti-Cats can invest in an OL for down the road while still building for today

11 - Hamilton - DB Isaiah Guzylak-Messam
Guzylak-Messam can provide depth for Courtney Stephen and impact on special teams right now and has potential to develop in a starter. He's a physical player and that suits the type of D the Ti-cats want to run.

12 - BC - OL Ryan Sceviour
Much like he did in 2015 with the Esks, I expect GM Ed Hervey to keep it simple and use both his first 2 picks on OL. While outside the top tier of OL prospects, Sceviour is still a solid player that should help boost a struggling BC O-line.

13 - Ottawa - OL Andrew Pickett
Since coming into the league, Ottawa has placed a priority on drafting OL and this year will be no different

14 - Saskatchewan - WR Rashaun Simonise
If this were based purely on physical ability Simonise would be a sure fire first rounder. But suspensions and other character concerns leave a fair bit of risk associated with Simonise pushing down the draft board. With Harty and Bailey, WR is not a huge need for the Riders but I can't see Chris Jones letting someone with Simonise's raw physical talents pass him by... he may even convert him to defense :)

15 - Hamilton (via Edmonton) - OL Darius Ciraco
After using earlier picks to fill other needs, the Ti-Cats get back to basics and look to strengthen their OL. 

16 - Winnipeg - WR Dan Petermann
They have Nic Demksi but a team that has been through the likes of Jade Etienne and Addison Richards won't rest on their laurels and will keep looking to build some quality depth there.

17 - Calgary - LB Micah Teitz
Generally regarded as a thin draft for linebackers so the Stamps grab on of the few highly regarded ones to build depth behind Singleton.

18 - Toronto - WR Regis Cibasu
Taking a chance here because as mentioned in my Team Preview, Jim Popp does not draft Cdn receivers. But Cibasu has size and physicality so I can't see him slipping past the 2d round.