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!