Friday the Riders made their final roster cuts in advance of the 2021 season. I know that the iconic Simpsons episode is what first comes to mind when you think of cuts (and I have used that many times in this space) but a far more obscure pop-culture reference that always pops into my head is one of that most of you won’t get (though I know at least a couple of you are avid wrestling fans so I won’t be completely alone). Cuts just makes me think of that time that Kaientaitold Val Venis that they would “choppy choppy” a certain piece of his anatomy. I often imagine what I could accomplish in life if I replaced the extensive 90s wrestling and TV knowledge I have with something useful.
Back to football…
For the most part none of the actual cuts surprised me. The only 2 that were quasi surprising to me was Lorenzo Jerome and Antonio Garcia. Jerome was a free agent signing from Calgary with actual game experience in a good defense at cover LB. I’m hopeful this means that AJ Hendy (who won the spot) is that good. Garcia is surprising in that he was recently playing tackle with the starting OL with Terran Vaughn nursing a dinged up shoulder. Cameron Jefferson was kept on the PR for depth here and apparently Brett Boyko won the job (more on that later) but still a bit surprising.
In terms of the practice roster, Cameron Jefferson was a surprise (for reasons mentioned above) and the other surprise was Charbel Dabire. You know I’m high on him and I think ultimately he works he way back with the starters. Otherwise the PR pretty much makes sense to me.
We currently have 49 on the roster which means that 4 people will are hurt or will be “hurt” next week. We have 5 Canadian receivers on the roster so expect 1 or 2 of them not to dress.
So let’s get to our roster and where we sit. Starting with the positives.
I’ve been saying all along that keeping the offensive core of Fajardo, Powell, Evans and Moore together will be huge (as will having an OC that knows what to do with them… in addition to cursing at them). Whether its JWL (who I think has a good season if he can stay healthy) or McRoberts, I think we are good at American WR. We may not have a Fantuz-like stud amongst our Canadians but with the stable of Lenius (my pick for biggest step forward in year 2), McInnis, Picton (who I am genuinely happy to see crack the roster after spending the past 8 years on the practice roster, patiently waiting) Harty or Jana. I think that we will get production by committee from that group.
I also like our secondary. Everyone is returning but McCray and continuity is important in a unit like that. I really like Blace Brown who won the other corner spot. He played well in limited time in 2019 as a rookie and should take a step forward now. Oneyka is the perfect depth guy because he can play multiple positions as a Canadian.
Special teams should be solid. Hus is quietly the model of rock solid consistency. Lauther is good. I’m hopeful that all the ooing and ahing over Ryan’s leg strength also mean he’s been working on placing the ball anywhere but the middle of the field. I’ve resigned myself to another year of yelling at people who claim he is the best punter because he gets the most singles. I don’t understand why we are using our mandated global position on a kicker. I guess it’s a good a place as any if you don’t actually have a global that can contribute meaningfully. Wish we did, but oh well. I wonder if he will cover punts?
Now the bad… and it starts in a really important spot: the O-line. The middle looks fine. Clark, white Johnson, and another pleasant surprise in Logan Ferland (two starting juniors on the same line, that’s gotta be unprecedented) with St John and Riley for depth (and mark my word, Labatte will play at some point this season). But the edges are the thing of nightmares. On one side you have a great young tackle with a questionable shoulder. On the other you have a Canadian who was personally responsible for a number of the near record sacks on Michael Riley in BC before being benched for performance reasons. Pray for Cody! I agree with one of the commenters who said that if Boyko won the spot it means we did a poor job of recruiting import tackles. It will be on Maas to run an offense that helps hide that glaring concern (TE sets, strong run games, quick slants, etc…).
D-line is half good (Micah and Leonard) and half completely unknown. Guys like Gates and Marino (who I can only assume is Dan’s brother) have great reviews out of camp but so did Joe Sykes… remember him? No you don’t! He also looked great in camp against O-lineman we would soon cut and was about as effective as a Scott Gordon safety blitz when facing an actual opponent. I’m cautiously optimistic here but can’t be overly confident at this point.
Linebackers seem to be shaping up to be Teitz/Lacey/Hendy (though they haven’t said for sure). I think Lacey will be fine but that leaves one career start between the remaining starting LBs. Much like our D-line, we are putting a lot of faith in our recruiting.
So where does that leave us with the season starting on Friday? If I’m being honest, a lot lest confident than I was just 4 weeks ago. I think we have the talent to compete in the West but to call us a favourite in the West would require the thickest of green lensed glasses. Fortunately those are in abundance in this province.
Can’t wait for Thursday when I get to do my first game preview since 2019!
Couldn't have said it better myself so I won't waste your time this week with paragraphs, as is my norm. I think we'll get a good idea where we're at with the OL in week 2 when Ja'Gared, Wynn & company come to town. The Lions DL doesn't scare me much. Other than Tavai who the heck are they? Is that good or bad? But if Vaughn can't play on one arm after a couple of games or can't play well, I think the Labour Day series which is coming up quick will be hell with Willie lining up against the tackles. Wanna bet they have him run over Boyko? Or do they have him beat up a wounded Vaughn & let Jeffcoat loose on Boyko? Really important we win game 1. Can't burn any home games with 5 of the 1st 6 there before it gets tough. For above reasons, the Hamilton & Winnipeg games are really critical.
Lions should be a good opening test. Not a top end D-line like Hamilton, Edmonton or even Winnipeg so chance to "ease" into it a bit. Jefferson on Boyko scares me. As does a fired up Charleston Hughes.
Need to start strong at home. If we fall behind early in the standings it will be tough to make up a ton of ground on the road.
A lot of variables including COVID losses. Predictions based upon available talent.
1. Elks - veterans throughout lineup everywhere including ST's. Exception - LB. New coaching staff has set tone early. If effort isn't there, you're gone or you sit. Big change from former regime. On paper, most talented team in West I think.
2. Stamps - League's best gunslinger short on ammo. Lots of change but so is everywhere else. Can't dismiss Huf or Dickenson.
3. Riders - major question marks in trenches on either side. Can the revamped OL keep Fajardo clean? What is the over/under on Maas & the water coolers?
4. Bombers - They remain a one trick pony with a 34 yr old RB. Can this pony run? Can Collaros stay health?
5. Lions - Offence looks good, defence not so much except for good DB's. My dark horse candidate. Could move up a notch or 2 if Reilly is healthy.
1. TiCats - This is pretty much everyone's choice as top cat.
2. Argos - There is no lack of talent, mostly veteran talent.
3. Als - The offence looks really good but lost some big talent on D.
4. REDBLACKS - LaPolice & Nichols aren't enough. Top receiver is RJ Harris.
My picks this week - Hamilton, Riders, Argos & Elks.
I think you are pretty bang on there. On paper Edmonton looks solid... not convinced they will be as dominant when the games are for real. Stamps should realistically be rated lower by I can't in good conscious bet against the Huf/ Dickenson/Bo trio they just win.
Argos look good talent-wise my concern is can Dinwiddie as a rookie have them come together and excel. I have Montreal slightly ahead of them due purely to coaching and QB.
My 2 cents worth.
1. Edmonton 9-5 RACK up the wins. Multi PRONGED offence. No Ma(a)s en ciudad de campeones. He's "rearranging" the furniture in Mosaic now. Good offence, DL. Questions @ LB. Discipline returns to herd.
2. Calgary 8-6 STAMPEDE(R)ing outta the OK Corral. Lost a lot of regulars. But OL still has continuity. DL pretty good with addition of Lemon. D generally good overall. RB may be an issue. Still - Bo knows football.
3. Winnipeg 7-7 Ticking time "BOMB". Had 2 objectives. 1. Elite target for Collaros. Snubbed by Burnham, jilted by Mitchell. tick..tick 2. Re-sign most of GC team. Except... Streveler (700+ rushing yds) - gone. All-stars Sayles & Rose - gone. Maston - gone. LaPo gone. Medlock - gone....tick..tick..tick. Time's almost up. If Harris out long term, move them down a spot.
4. Saskatchewan 6-8 Commander CODY & His Lost Planet Airmen return for Season 2. Only 14 episodes due to cost cutting. Foes have bulked up their forces after Fajardo shredded defences last season. Begins the journey with a depleted personal guard & a thinning of storm troopers manning the force fields. ROUGH RIDE for Cody this season??? Maybe. Stay tuned.
5. BC 5-9 What's new PUSSYCATS? FELINES good on offence. But defence looks spotty on front lines. Questions @ kicker. Good DB's, excellent set of returners. Reilly may not be 100%. Not enough weapons. Sharpen up these kitties on the scratching post.
RIDER ANGLE - Winning begins in the trenches. OL is the Elephant - driving the bus - full of elephants - in the room. Looks like BC 2019.2. Major questions on DL & LB. Five of 6 @ home out of gate. Fast start required. Past 4 seasons, 1st 4 games? Record 5-11. That won't cut it this year.
1. Hamilton 11-3. Have someone check out their MEOW mix. These CATS have claws.
2. Montreal 8-6. LARKS singing a happy tune.
3. Toronto 7-7 Lots of talent in the c(ARGO) hold. AR(e) BUCKLE(d) up for a crazy ride. Difference between Als & Argos - Argos have Cats 4 times, Als have Ottawa.
4. Ottawa 2-12. MISSING - 3 large guards from Lansdowne. One sighting in Regina, another passed through Montreal. If seen please notify LA POLICE HQ's in Ottawa/Hull. Ottawa lost slew of players besides OL. Maybe worst schedule in CFL. Feel for LaPo, Benny & Matt. But...not a good situation.
Let the cards fall where they may. Can't wait.
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