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.
Ojo has to be the favorite at corner. He's a great DB
LT, as you say, is the issue. Bond will help the run game but we had an MOP, also really big, last year in Dennis & that didn't pan out. Basically we have 3 over 30 incumbents who gave up a lot of sacks - will they be better this year? I would hope Bladek is ready for a spot. Looks like Harty's injury is serious according to Jones. Game 1 is 6 days away. Will we have some answers after that game? The Rider fan base is already over the moon with Cofield. We'll find out soon enough. I agree with you on the HB's. I like Butler better than Gainey. Last year kind of came out of nowhere. 5 career intercepts & then 10. An anomaly or does this mean Gainey has been around long enough & has turned into one of the top HB's in the league? Not sure.
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