Sorry for the lack of posting over the last couple weeks. I’ve been on a well deserved vacation… ok the “well deserved” part may be up for debate. Fortunately, during my absence its not like there were any notable happenings. You know like 4 blown achilles or people allowed in the stands at Mosaic for the first time in 2 years or a provincial controversy over Spitz not being allowed at Rider games anymore. Yep it was certainly a quiet couple of weeks.
But the vacation is over and its time to get to work. The season starts a week from Friday (holy crap!) and that means I’m going to have to remember how to write game previews and post-game analysis with all the intelligent commentary and irreverent humour you have come to expect over the years. Much like the football we will be watching, expect the first couple weeks of regular blogging to be sloppy and error-filled… that is to say more sloppy and error-filled than usual.
The question I get the most often (aside from “Is that smell coming from you?) is: How do you think the Riders will do this year? That’s a complicated question because honestly, after 2 years off, no one knows how any team is going to do… other than the RedBlacks, they will do terrible. It’s a crapshoot. Some stars will probably look like they haven’t missed a beat, and others may look like they forgot how not to suck. Looking specifically at the West, any team could realistically win it and any team could realistically lose it.
So following a string of retirements and achilles injuries (seriously, 1 I get it happens; 2 freak accident; 3 why are you still doing this?!?; 4 mother of god how did continuing seem like a good idea… but I digress) how do the Riders look?
There’s a lot to like: Offensive weapons look strong. Fajardo running a competent OC’s playbook (and not whatever the hell McAdoo used to run) should be great. He’s got his core stars returning too with Powell, Evans and Moore. We will be running 2 Canadian WRs and have great depth there. If Lenius/McInnis or Harty can step up we are looking good (with Jana, Picton and Schaefer-Baker waiting in the wings). The issue with the offense is the Line that holds it all together. One rookie tackle (Assuming Vaughn is healed by Game 1) and a new mix in the interior does not exactly instill confidence. I think our starting 5 will be OK but the depth is a serious concern all the sudden. So we are an injury away (or a slow healing Vaughn) from Fajardo getting the old Mike Reilly treatment.
Defensively, the secondary will be strong. I don’t even mind the D-line. I liked them a whole lot better with Bishop and Geter but a line featuring Micah and Leonard should be okay. Plus guys like Marino sound promising (at least as promising as you can be when not playing against another team). Certainly not a top end D-line yet, but capable. The big question mark is at linebacker. I just don’t know what to expect there. The loss of Dean is massive. Try and remember the last dominant D without a rock solid middle linebacker. I think we have guys with tons of potential but when the bullets start flying for real is when we will actually know what we have.
So at this point I would put us firmly in the race for the top of the west but no longer the leading contender as of right now. Can’t wait until Aug 6th so we can see it for real.
I like your optimism & hope it's well founded.I don't share it though. Right now it looks like 1 returning on OL. Playing Vaughn with a brace on a bad wing is a bad idea. That's a lot of change, especially when you compete in the West where 3 teams, Lions, Bombers & Elks have really good OL's. (Lions allowed 15 sacks in last 8 games under Bates, pacing for 2nd & replaced Boyko with all-star Matthews). In 2019 we had LaBatte, Clark, Coleman & Bladek who had all played together 3 years. Vaughn was here for 2. And we could roll in guys like Shepley & Blake. Boyko needs to improve his play, St John - 4th team, 4th year. The rest is a smorgasbord of Nationals & Americans. So - 5 guys who haven't played together. That's tough.
The other side of the LOS isn't great either. I had concerns even before Geter left. My suspicion is 2019 Micah is closer to the new norm than 2017-18 Micah. He was double & tripled team all 3 years so why the drop? Why the low salary? Agents have a week before FA to talk to teams? Why release him in BC when they have literally no one anyone has heard of @ DT? Campbell isn't new at this game. We do have Lacey as an option @ DE (he played there under Chris Jones PT & pretty well) or MIKE. But, if @ DE, it would leave us very vulnerable @ LB. Purifoy would make an excellent SAM. He got after the QB pretty good in his BC stint. But with McCray gone, is he better @ DB? We likely go National with Bouka at some point this year.
In short, if we don't get our act together @ OL we may see Reilly 2019 all over again @ Mosaic. If you can't contain, it doesn't matter if you have Burnham, Duron Carter, Durant etc.. If our front 7 can't create pressure, it will create a lot of stress on the DB's. It looks like a bunch of guys who have never started are going to have to come through. One week away from cuts & do we know who's playing on OL, DL or LB? No one standing out day after day is not a good sign is it?. Too many holes IMO. Based on the rosters now in the West I'd say we are in the running for 3rd. Elks & Lions are improved, Bombers have largely the same team back, Stamps have lost as many veterans as we have. Fingers crossed.
Riders not getting much love outside Regina. Marshall Ferguson, cfl.ca stats guru, TiCat fan, ratings on best position groups as follows back some weeks ago.
OL - 1st Edm 2nd Wpg
QB - 1st Ham 2nd Cal/Edm tie
REC - 1st Ham 2nd Edm
RB - 1st Wpg 2nd Mtl
Riders didn't rank anywhere in RB or REC. Got a Wildcard vote for OL - MF comments - Maas & Fajardo will be productive...but will they be aided by the men up front." Since then, no LaBatte, no Cofield, no Schram, likely no Vaughn.
Got a Futures vote for QB. MF comments - "...with new OC... Fajardo's best time comes in 2022 & beyond."
No surprises on ratings. Stegall also had concerns this week with OL. Riders need help. Feel for Fajardo.
DL - 1st Wpg 2nd Ham
LB - 1st Wpg 2nd SK MF comment - based almost solely on Larry Dean.
DB - 1st SK 2nd - Ham. MF Comments - strong Rider core.
Well, Dean's gone. Got it right on DB's.
Pretty obvious Riders hit hard @ OL & front 7. Need lots of newbies to be lights out. A lot to expect. Will see how it washes out friday. Some veterans already falling off rosters. Roosevelt could help veteran starved import receivers on hand. Is Kevin Brown a possibility @ WIL, move Lacey to MLB? Lots more to come this week.
A few interesting roster decisions. Keeping 3 QB's on the roster when teams are only allowed to dress 2 unless 1 is designated as something else, say receiver, takes away a spot elsewhere. In this regard Brendan McGuire had some interesting thoughts considering how close Fajardo & Harker are. To quote BM "It would be difficult to imagine a scenario where Fajardo would be happy without Harker as his understudy. And it would be even more challenging to envision a scenario where Fajardo would be happy with Paxton Lynch backing him up, either." So by not saying who is the backup & maybe losing Lynch by putting him on the PR, the possible solution is keeping all 3 on the active roster??? It would tell me as the QB that that large shadow Lynch throws is still there. I wonder which one they will designate at the "non-QB" position should they all be there come game time. If Harker, that makes it clear to Fajardo who's #2. If Lynch, it's one thing to be the backup, quite a hit to the NFL ego & ambitions if you're listed as a receiver or whatever. Brendan makes some very good points in this regard.
The idea of playing 4 Nationals @ OL seems to me like an admission we don't have enough quality imports to man the tackle positions. Especially since we seem to have so many options elsewhere, as stated by O'Day. If Vaughn plays with a brace to protect his shoulder how long does that last & how effective is he? If he re-injures it in-game who comes in to play LT? Boyko almost certainly ends up on one side in that situation IMO. That didn't end well in BC. Are Ferland & Riley better options than Cameron Jefferson? Just wondering.
Lastly, also having just 3 import receivers on the active roster begs the question how good ARE our imports. McRoberts is on the PR again. Last year he had to beat out Arcenaux & Thigpen to get playing time. And, oh yes, Cannon. Wasn't he a big part of the plan at some point? We'll be seeing 3 Nationals lined up there if one of the big 3 gets knicked.
Curious decisions IMO. The coaches know more about the players than I do so maybe everything will be fine. And the roster for game 1 has yet to be decided. I guess we'll see. Still optimistic. The West looks really competitive with everybody.
Pressed for time in responding. But I agree with a lot of what the 3 well spoken commenters have offered.
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