Friday, May 31, 2019

Riders vs. Stampeders: Preseason Game 1

Football is back tonight! It may be football that is as ugly and meaningless as an encounter with a discount hooker but its football nonetheless and I am pumped.

Normally my pre-game post consists of breaking down the match-ups and what needs to happen for the Riders to win. With this being a preseason game I'm going to take a different approach given that the match-up breakdown is essentially the future unemployed vs. those destined for the practice roster. Also, I'm too lazy to look into the actual number but it seems to me the Riders have an abysmal pre-season record (not that that matters).

Monday's post was about guys I was keeping my eye on so I won't rehash that. Instead I'll look broadly at the positions of interest.

The first is the trenches. Defenses will likely be running some very vanilla schemes so there should be lots of one-on-one matchups ot see where we stand on both lines. Guys like Shepley and Schram should get lots of reps on OL. On the D-line I want to see how new guys like Dabire, Faulk and Graves hold up when they start pushing for real.

The other place that you get a good sense of in preseason is running backs and LBs. In practice you don't get a good sense of who can tackle or break tackles or who has a nose for the ball. Our 2 young RBs have a great opportunity to show there stuff. One will be retained in some form and I will damn near guarantee will see at least 1 game this season (I stand by by "no way Powell and Thiggy both play 18" claim"). 

Receivers and DBs are a lot tougher to get a sense of just by watching. I've seen DBs get picks and WRs get long TDs and be cut the next because they only got those because they we're in the wrong spot and got lucky. Obviously you can see if a receiver is making contested catches or if a DB has good man coverage but beyond that its tough to read much into the stats and what the fans see. I would like to see Picton have a good game. He patiently waited 2 years on the PR and now with both top drafted Cdn Wrs out has a golden chance to impress. 

Then there is QBs which I'm honestly not excited about. Fajardo will be our back-up. Its a done deal. Obviously him not looking like hot garbage tonight would be a real morale booster. I think the only battle is whether Watford can show enough to be kept another year or whether we've seen his ceiling and its time to try developing someone else (i.e. Harker).

As much as this is a meaningless game I think it is an important one for the Riders. Not as far as determining the starters or even the majority of back-ups, that's mostly decided. But I count at least 10 projected starters who are 31 or older. I think we are lucky if 7 of those play a full 18 games. That means success this season will require tapping into our depth. This game is a chance to see what we have in terms of depth and a chance for guys to step and show they can be that next man up.

It's also a Friday preseason game, so a great chance to "drink this game pretty". It will take a lot.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: I Got My Eye On You

I'll start off today with a disclaimer. Given that I don't reside in Saskatoon, I have seen exactly zero minutes of Rider training camp firsthand. It's been the same issue every year since camp got moved out of Regina. Good for fans outside of the Queen City, bad for me. And really that's all I really care about. I'm a selfish dick like that.

But more to the point of my story... my lack of firsthand witnessing of players' performances make it very difficult for me to comment on how training camp is going. I read everything I can get my hands on but at best that leaves me giving my opinion about someone else's opinion. Let's be honest some people's opinion (including certain members of the media) are worth about as much as a voucher for Blue Bomber Grey Cup merchandise. So trying to sort out the actual good opinions from the idiots, the clueless and helpless over-hypers (let's not forget that Joe Sykes was destined to re-write the record books)... we its difficult.

So with our first real look at the 2019 Riders coming on Friday, I figured I would spend today talking about a few newcomers that I am excited to see and why. I'm leaving injured guys like McInnis and Lenius-Dickey off the list. Obviously I'm intrigued to see what they bring but that will have to wait.

RB James Butler - Clearly Powell and Thigpen will start as 1 and 2 at RB but at a combined age of 732 it would be nice to know we have some youth that can step in if need be. Butler has been getting some good reviews in camp but you never really know an RB until people are trying to tackle him for real. 

LB Obum Gwacham - Best name I've seen in a while. I'll refer to him as Ol' Bum Gotch. I will also give him my official Rider Prophet Endorsement. I've given that endorsment to the likes of Eltoro Freeman, Chad Kilgore, Ikenna Ike, Gabe Nyenhuis, Jose Valdez, Boo Robinson and they certainly went on to great Rider careers. (Seriously my apologies to Ol' Bum Gotch, that endorsement is the kiss of death).

Los Mexicanos - I'm curious to see how Brassea, Olvera and Garcia do in game action. If it goes well we won't notice them. If it goes poorly some may call for their deportation... I'd like to think I'm better than that but if I'm being honest, there's a chance its me.

LB Deon King - With Elimimian missing most of camp so far, King has been getting the bulk of reps at MLB. When the bullets start flying for real it will be interesting to see if he can those reps helped him progress his game.

DL Chabrel Dabire - He's been getting a lot a camp hype (which is actually a red flag for me). The book on him is that he has raw power but needs to work on technique and conditioning. So I'm hopeful but skeptical. Let's not forget he was a 5th round draft pick. Is there a chance we got a steal? Possibly. But more likely he's a developmental project and I want to see how much development he'll need.

DB Blace Brown - Interesting young prospect in the secondary. 

WR Paul McRoberts - The most hyped non-QB this year. Is he for real? Or a budding Terrence Nunn? I'd like to find out.

You'll note I did not mention QBs. This is Saskatchewan, tell me you're not already sick about QB talk. Oh no, Collaros didn't light it up in a scrimmage, he must be a bum. Hey Watford completed a long pass against a DB who won't be employed in a week, he's the saviour of the franchise. Harker is new and we've never seen him... he must be awesome! And of course, Why haven't we signed Kevin Glenn yet? We've got a lot more of this coming our way, so I'll not add to it for now.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Football!

Sunday training camps around the CFL opened, Huzah! ... well the almost didn't but then they did and that's the important thing.

The O'Day/Dickenson era is officially underway as 90+ guys are in Saskatoon trying to prove they are worth keeping around for more than a few weeks. It's a very different kind of camp as there really aren't any starting jobs up for grabs. Certainly there's a chance a veteran could get beat out by a young up and comer in a few spots. But I could probably guess our starting 24 right now and get 23 of the right. Despite this there are some interesting battles to watch.

Here's what I will be following closely.

Receiver - This should be the most heavily contested in camp. You have the vets in Roosevelt and a surprisingly healthy Arceneaux. You got the 3 young rookies from last season back for year 2 in Evans,  Moore (who I think is in a for a big year) and Cannon (who the team is very high on). Just watching those 5 battle for the starting roles will be fun. Toss the new crop of receivers vying to be the next Moore/Evans/Lambert. Then there is the Canadian side of things where our two big new rookies will have everyone's attention. After what seems like a decade on our practice roster I will be interested to see if Mitch Picton finally gets a chance to step up. Cory Watson is still there but in an ideal world he becomes expendable of suffers an "injury" just before game 1.

O-Line - Cofield and Coleman will man the tackles (and with a chance to play from day 1 I think Cofield will have great year). I can tell you that in some capacity Labatte, Blake, Bladek, Schram, Shepley and Clark (when healthy) will as well. But who the starting 3 are and who the dedicated 6th OL are and up in the air. Looks like Blake-Labatte-Bladek are the starters for now but that could change.

D-line - Five of our 6 man rotation will be Hughes, Johnson, Evans, Leonard, Geter but there is one spot left. Mak Henry is currently in that spot but we have Mafuta, Breton and Dabire in the mix and also could go american there with Edwards or one of the new guys.

QB - Normally the most intriguing part of camp the interest here is pretty minimal (beyond monitoring the Collaros Concussion Count). Collaros will start. Fajardo will back-up the only thing left to decide is whether Isaac Harker can beat out Watford for the 3rd spot. Watford has the edge in terms of experience with it being his 3rd year here. But He's essentially a faster Michael Bishop... strong arm, not strong on the mental aspect of the game. Normally you'd be OK keeping a speedy QB like that around to run your sneaks but Nick Marshall stole that role so if Harker can show any kind of upside in terms of actually being a QB that can do more than run and throw far then you might opt to keep him around and develop him. That said with the amount of hype Harker already has 1 day into main camp I have this sinking feeling he's doomed to flame out gloriously come the pre-season.

DB - Starters are set in Marshall-Gainey-Edem-Purifoy-Butler with Bouka as the depth. But I do believe that if we found another Marshall-type recruit that Butler's spot could be at risk. 

We are just 11 days away from preseason action. Get your family time while you still can and start prepping your liver... Rider season is coming.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Elimimian And Other Thoughts

I was going to try and be like lots of other writers out there an open with a clever pun involving a play on Solomon Elimimian (Better Call Sol is a popular one). But the best I was able to come up with was “Me So Solly” so I gave up on that. Don’t worry, at some point I will bring back Me So Solly.

But enough about the internal monologue of my blog drafting time. The Riders signed Solomon Elimimian last week. It’s a pretty big signing. Yes he’s getting up there in age and yes he’s coming off injury but the fact remains he’s arguably the best middle linebacker in the CFL. 4 time all-star, 2 time defensive player of the year, one time MOP. For as much as take shots at Sam Hurl, he was actually not  terrible last season (Judge also showed promise)… but isn’t it nice to able to say something more positive than “he wasn’t terrible” about a key member of your defense. Also, its not like injuries are piling up on Elimimian. He had a knee a few years back and a wrist this season. For a guy who hits people hard 140 times a season, I’d say he’s been pretty durable. I don’t think he’s the same MOP guy he was in 2014 but he’s still miles better than most people. Just look at the middle of our D: Evans, Johnson and Elimimian.

My only concern is the trend regarding our top players. What do Charleston Hughes, Solomon Elimiman, Manny Arceneaux, Naaman Roosevelt, William Powell all have in common? They are old. We are putting a lot of our hopes on people the wrong side of 30. Now we have a lot of young guys too (I seem to remember we had one of the youngest rosters last season but am too lazy to look it up) so adding some strong vets is not a bad idea (worked okay in 2013). Still I wish we had just a bit less riding on guys having one more great season in them.

Quick Hitters:
·        The philosophy of our team will be unchanged in 2019. Great D and adequate offense. Our postseason success is based purely on whether Collaros is healthy when playoffs roll around. We are not hiding our strategy. Meet the new Riders, same as the old Riders. But hey… the lack of Brandon Bridge has got to be a plus.
-    Dan Clark is lucky to be alive. Seriously. I have been campaigning for a different centre for years now but this is certainly not what I had in mind. Hope for a speedy recovery.
·        First Round Pick Justin McInnis was not offered an NFL contract after 2 minicamps. Odds of him being at training camp are trending up.
·        I remain confident that despite all the grandstanding on both sides, a deal between the CFLPA and league will occur at the 11th hour.
·        If not I’m offering my services as a replacement player. I’m no Shane Falco but can probably smoke a cigarette while kicking.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing The Draft

Thursday the Canadian draft went down. By now you’ve probably forgotten about the German receiver we drafted in the European draft or the 3 amigos we drafted in the Mexican draft (pretty sure one was an O-lineman). But the Canadian Draft is the big one… in that there are currently rules allowing them roster spots and a chance that those drafted will actually see the field this season. (I’m not anti CFL 2.0, actually for it, just realistic about the short term impact of it all).

It was Jeremy O’Day’s first draft as GM and he made 6 selections. Overall I’d say he did well… though as O’Day himself said if you’re a GM and you don’t feel good after the draft then you haven’t done a very good job. Everyone thinks their draft class is awesome at this point. As was widely expected the Riders targeted a receiver in Round 1. What wasn’t expected was them doing the same with their second pick. Though unexpected, given their huge lack of depth at the position, nabbing 2 top end WR prospects is not a bad decision. I’ll break down each pick below but if you know anything about the CFL Draft its that Rounds 1-3 are where you get your top end talent and 4-8 are for depth players and the odd player that actually becomes an impact player (lotto tickets if you will). So while I’m not completely discounting our late round picks, odds are, the success of this draft will be dictated by the success of the top 2 WRs.

Let take a look at the picks:

Round 1 – WR Justin McInnis
At 6’6, McInnis is a big bodied WR who has speed to go along with his size. The Riders haven’t had a top end Cdn WR prospect since they drafted Demksi in 2015 and before that Fantuz in 2006. Sure Jordan Sisco appeared in between there but I’m pretty sure Canadian is the only word that applies to him out of top-end Cdn WR. But back to McInnis. He has mini-camp invites to Indy and Tennessee but well worth the risk, given how few mini-camp invites turn into NFL deals.

Round 2 – WR Brayden Lenius-Dickey
I don’t think many (us included) expected him to fall this far. Like McInnis, he has height (6’5) but at 240 lbs he’s a very different type of player. He’s more like a Lavoie-type who can play receiver but also had the size to play tight end or fullback. He also has a mini-camp invite in San Francisco. Assuming Steve McAdoo can actually figure out how to use a versatile player like Lenius-Dickey (for obvious reasons I will insist on using the second part of his last name) we should be a good add. Let’s all remember that we started Josh Stanford and Devon Bailey last season.

Round 4 – LB Jacob Janke
Projects as a safety in the CFL (where we need more depth) and was coveted because of his strong play on special teams. We already have a solid group of special teams players but in the 4th round this is exactly the type of player you can expect to get.

Round 5 – DL Charbel Dabire
He’s 300 lbs and plays DT… that pretty much covers why we targeted him. Obviously he is a developmental project because players this big who are solid are top round picks. But we need depth behind Evans and Henry so it’s the right position to look for developmental projects. Can’t say I’ve ever seen the name Charbel before. It’s almost enough to make me want to endorse him in training camp… thus cursing him to failure.

Round 6 – OL Vincent Roy
You can’t teach size and at 6’5, 285 Roy has that. Being realistic here as a 6th round pick Roy either ends up on the PR or goes back to school (assuming he still has eligibility) and hopefully develops down the road. The victory will be if he sticks around long enough for us to learn if its pronounced Roy like Roy Romanow or like Patrick Roy.

Round 8 – LB Christopher Judge
I had to make sure I heard right when they said he was the older brother of Cameron. He’ll be 28 when camp starts and hasn’t played in a few years. Apparently he was quite the special teams player in college. Look people may make fun at this pick but honestly he’s as likely to pan out as any other 8th round pick.