As the prospect of an actual CFL season becomes more and more plausible, I am being asked the same question more frequently “How do you think the Riders stack up to the competition?”. My honest answer is that I have no freakin’ clue. I have only recently started reminding myself who even plays on the Riders and other than being able to name the other 8 teams (the Barracudas are still a thing right?) I know very little about the other teams. Free agency helped a bit but while I used to be able to name you the starting 12 on all CFL teams (a super productive use of my finite brain space) I could barely name 5 starters per team.
So I am setting off on a journey of rediscovery. That is a very fancy way of saying that I am pulling up each team’s roster and giving it a cursory glance. Then, based on a solid 30 seconds of analysis I am going to give you my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of each rosters… starting this week with the West Division. Full disclosure, I will probably make some false statements or overlook some important fact but I am doing my best* (*Best being defined as the absolute minimum required to sound like I know what I am talking about).
In 2019, BC managed to miss the playoffs despite having Mike Reilly. Instead of him leading a high powered offense, they pretty much just let him drop back and get sacked a whole ton while trying to throw deep. They also had a relatively useless defense. So they fired Devon Claybrooks and brought in Rick Campbell.
Strengths: On paper BC has brought in the pieces required to improve their D. Guys like Chris Casher and JR Tavai will boost their non-existent pass rush. Other guys like Marcus Sayles, Anthony Cioffi and Kenny Laddler should improve their back-end. Adding Rykar Matthews should also make Mike Reilly feel better about life.
Weaknesses: No gapping holes but while Bryan Burnham is a stud with Rhymes as their number 2 they don’t have the most intimidating receiving corp. Also while Tavai and Casher boost their D-line, it takes them from utter garbage to half decent. They still need to fill out the other half of that line if they want to make some noise.
A lot has changed since November 2019. Jason Maas was their coach. He was fired. Milanovich was hired. He quit and now the Jamie Elizondo era is upon them.
Strengths: Offensively Trevor Harris throwing to Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson will certainly keep opposing DC’s up at night. Pretty solid D-line with Boateng, Ceresna, Moore and Lemon. They beefed up their secondary with Grymes and Jonathan Mincy.
Weaknesses: The loss of Matt O’Donnell doesn’t leave them with great Canadian OL depth. Also, while Diggs is a stud, the linebacking group as a whole is the one area of their D I’m not convinced of at this point.
Every ounce of my wants to talk about how much talent the Stamps have lost and how concerned they should be that this is finally the year they slip from dominance. But just like every other year where this happens, we all know they will just find new players and go on being great. Betting against John Hufnagel even when the odds appear in your favour is not a profitable venture.
Strengths: They have added back some big name talent back from the NFL in DeShaun Amos and Jameer Thurman. With guys like Jamar Wall, Richard Leonard and Royce Metchie I think their back 7 will be fine. Obviously anytime you have Bo Levi Mitchell under centre you feel pretty good about your offense. And you can bet that a fully healthy Kamar Jorden will once again be chewing up big yards.
Weaknesses: Were it not for the whole Hufnagel effect I would be telling you that the D-line is a glaring concern. They lost Chris Casher and Cordarro Law and have added nothing to replace at this point. Other than Mike Rose there is no one on that roster that remotely concerns me. Also outside of Jorden, their WR groups seems to lack playmakers. OL depth took a hit too with a couple retirements. Still I am not counting out the Stamps despite the large amount of evidence that I should.
Lots of optimism in Loserpeg that their team is poised for a repeat given that they have managed to retain most of the group that won the Cup in 2019. While this is mostly true, it overlooks a few key details, which I will get into below.
Strengths: Defense remains pretty solid and it starts up front with Jefferson and Jeffcoat. Bighill leads a solid LB group. They are returning all members of a solid OL. Adding Bryant Mitchell to Adams and Demski gives them a solid WR group. Plus Andrew Harris has had a full year of no drug testing so look out!
Weaknesses: The most obvious and glaring one is that the entire repeat scenario hinges on Zach Collaros staying healthy. Last year was the ideal Collaros scenario. He was only needed for 3 games. He’s great when healthy but are any of you putting money on him playing a full season? Even if it’s a shortened one? It would honestly be a better investment to bet on Edmonton being named the Roughriders. Add in the loss of one of the best OC’s in the league in LaPolice. In what can certainly not be a good omen for Collaros, LaPo’s replacement is Buck Pierce (let that one sink in). So yes, if Collaros stays healthy and if Buck Pierce manages to run an offense even remotely as good as LaPo’s then the Bombers will be world beaters. I would also add that the Bomber Secondary lost their 2 best DBs. They did add Josh Johnson in free agency but it’s a downgrade to that unit at this point.
Considering the cursory glance you say you have given the opposition, I think you're bang on. My one line spin on each.
BC-has to outscore their defence's deficiencies. Great backfield, issues on front 7.
Edm-LB - Like Diggs but overall don't excite me much. O'Donnell does leave a hole. Could play 3 imports on OL but not ideal.
Calgary-lost Brescacin, Rogers & Begelton. Does Carey & his 8 career games do it for you? Me neither. Where's the offence & who protects BLM? Tough to bet against Huf, Bo Levi & Dave D but all good things come to an end. A bridge too far this year, I say.
Wpg-my sentiments exactly. Zac has to prove he can play a whole year. They like McGuire but he follows Brian Bennett & Dominique Davis as what poses for their idea of a decent backup. But then, the Riders are the only team in the West without a precipitious drop in QBing from #1.
The season this year is a crapshoot, especially if it goes 10 games or less. A modest winning or losing streak out of the gate can make or break the season. But, barring any QB injuries & given the current rosters I see Wpg, Edm & Riders in the best shape. Dare I say it? The Elks, Emeralds, Effervescents biggest move was losing Maas. He's made your year end list how many times? Lack of discipline, leading the CFL in penalties was his legacy there. Calgary, BC - if you want to follow them this year, you'll need a rear view mirror.
Stamps and Bombers both look strong. Edmonton has improved. The Riders just need to bolster the D-line some more
Anon 1 - Discipline could be a big difference for Edmonton. With that offense, if they stop shooting themselves in the foot it could be trouble for others. But O-line and LBs remain a question mark at this point.
Anon 2 - How is Calgary looking strong? Take away Bo and that is not an intimidating roster?
I will be interested to see how Maas does this year. He's got a reputation as a "Qb whisperer" of sorts. BUT, & here's my concern - as QB coach in Toronto he had Ray, as OC he had Burris, Reilly & Harris. ALL of them were established starters. Add to that the O/S receiving corps he had as a HC.
2015 - Burris + Chris Williams, Ellingson, Sinopoli
2016-18 Reilly + Bowman, Walker, Zylstra/Zylstra, Duke Williams, Walker/ Williams, Walker, Bryant Mitchell in successive years
2019 Harris + Ellingson, Daniels, Collins.
How does he do with a 1st year starter & a group of receivers ready to take the next step?
Maas teams put up a lot of yards but have trouble finishing. How can you miss the playoffs in 2018 & go 8-10 in 2019 with a team that had an OL allowing the fewest yards, a 1,000 yd RB both years & had a defence last year with a DL co-leading the league in sacks, Dean, Unamba & Diggs/Santos-Knox @ LB & a DB group ranked 1st in fewest passing yds allowed & a D ranked 2nd in net offence allowed?
Mike Reilly called Maas the best coach he ever had. Tellingly when he went to BC his reason given was he wanted to win more championships.
I will be really interested to see how our offence does this year, especially in the red zone. The reason Maas is no longer HC in Edmonton is not because he didn't have talent at hand. His best year with the EFC was 12-6 when Carson Walch, not Maas, ran the offence.
I think Jason Maas may turn out to be a great hire, but put me in the "show me" category. And, if we have a slow start in a shortened season I would not be surprised to see Franklin take over. In the last 5 seasons we have gone 5-15 in the opening 4 games, only once hitting 2-2. Franklin & Maas have a history & Maas is not the most patient guy around. Book it.
I'm cautiously optimistic for Maas. The concerns you listed are valid but I Fajardo is essentially a second year starter. When you consider that the '19 offense was built for Collaros and the OC was not a very good one, I think he did admirably. Give him a full season to have an offense built around him and prepare as the starter with a competent OC and there is real reason for excitement. I think Maas will be one of those guys just better suited as a coordinator. Like Richie Hall. Outstanding coordinator but trainwreck as a HC.
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