Monday, May 23, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Looking at the Defense

Training camp is in full swing… on some Riders like Dan Marino’s brother took that literally by taking some full swings at Na’ty Rogers. We were supposed to have preseason football today. But I guess we will have to wait a week to go to Mosaic to watch the future unemployed.

For today let’s look at the defense and what needs to be sorted out in training camp.

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: AC Leonard, Anthony Lanier, Garrett Marino, Pete Robertson

In the mix: Charleston Hughes, Keion Adams, Charbel Dabire, Nick Coe, Nicholas Dheilly, Miles Brown, David Kenney, Reece McCormick, Benjamin Davis, Kailon Davis, DeMarcus Christmas, Justin Thomas

Our D-line in 2022 will hinge a large part in how well all those guys we recruited last year progress in year two. When healthy (and not taking 15 yard penalties or getting ejected), Marino was a stud in the middle. Lanier and Robertson both had times where they looked like impact players. Even Adams was a half decent back-up. If those guys can take another step forward in development then our line could be damn good. Lanier and Marino are the most important as we really don’t have much else going on at DT if they don’t pan out. Other question is of course how much does Hughes have left in the tank. I don’t think he’s as bad as 2021 showed but I also don’t think he can be an impact player for a full season any more. Ideal situation is having him as a rotation guy to limit his snaps early in the season. A healthy Hughes come playoffs can still be a difference maker. Bold (or no so bold) prediction, Hughes gets 5 sacks in the first 4 games and then none for like the ten as the wear and tear adds back up. Other thing to watch is that Jonathan Woodard is still sitting out there with no NFL deal. If he ends up back here, then look out. I have nothing against DeMarcus Christmas but I hope he doesn’t make the team just so we can avoid all the stupid plays on words.

Linebacker

Projected Starters: Micah Teitz, Darnell Sankey, Derrick Moncrief

In the mix (and by that I mean in the mix to be back-ups): Larry Dean, Gary Johnson, Alvin Jones, Michael Pinckney, Nigel Harris, Justin Herdman-Reed, Tommy Bringi, Justice Momoka, AJ Allen

What a rollercoaster ride LB has been over the past few season. In 2019 we had an all-star 3 in Judge, Elimimian and Moncrief. The all 3 left and we had no one. 2021 was much better than expected as Teitz came out of nowhere to be an impact starter and Lacey stepped up huge when Dean went down. We filled the cover LB role with an ever changing rotation, it was adequate but not great. Moncrief changes that instantly. Getting him back is huge! Not sure exactly how they’ll deploy both Sankey and Dean but it’s a good problem to have. So camp is all about who is the depth. In theory guys like Harris and Johnson should have the leg up but even though they clearly have the talent, they never seem to stay healthy. Herdman is an adequate Canadian back-up. Would love to see a guy like Jones take a step forward. You will also like see some DBs tried out at LB. Hendy and Oneyka played there last season.

 Defensive Back

Projected Starters: Nick Marshall, Damon Webb, Mike Edem, Jeremy Clark and I legit have no clue on the other spot.

In the mix: Rolan Milligan, Stephen Denmark, Amari Henderson, Vincent Dethier, Josh Nurse, TJ Morrison, Nelson Lokombo, Blace Brown, Godfrey Oneyka, Tristan Fleury, Zach Herzog, Will Sunderland, Levonta Taylor, Brian Cole, CJ Reavis, AJ Hendy, Jayden Dalke, Maceo Beard, Kosi Oneyka, Matt Watson

My kingdom for a halfback! I feel really good about 4 of 5 positions in the secondary (ok, I have some lingering concerns about Marshall but that's beside the point). Webb and Clark were huge finds for us last season, and they should be even better with a season under their belt. Maybe Clark can shift into HB as corner is an easier place to put a rookie than halfback. Say what you want about Gainey but he did pretty good at a very difficult spot to play. Guys I’m most curious in seeing are Nurse, Henderson and Denmark. Also, really want to see what we have in 2021 2nd overall pick Lokombo.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Monday Morning Senitimonies: Training Camp… Kinda

Well rookie camp was held last week and main camp was supposed to open yesterday. But the players are not participating as the ongoing drama surrounding the collective agreement negotiations ramps up.

Look, I could write pages on these negotiations. Human resources is what I do when I’m not wearing a robe (for some reason they frown on that) so I could bore you with the ins and outs of collective bargaining (this is all pretty standard tactics/process). I’ll boil it down to this: Both sides are playing a very obvious game of chicken. Everyone knows that neither side can afford to miss games. Even preseason games with their minimal attendance are a revenue source that the owners will not be passing on. So this will 100% be resolved prior to next Monday when the Riders and Bombers open the preseason. I don’t have the energy to wade into this conversation other than to say: The owners are negotiating like dicks. It’s their right to do so and they honestly hold all the power and know it. But the are still using 60s style bargaining tactics and wondering why the players don’t believe them when they say they want them to be partners. Want to use your power to strong arm a deal (as happens every time), go ahead but just remember that there may be longer term consequences to treating your employees as expendable numbers.

But since I much prefer talking actual football, let’s do that by taking a look at the offensive side of the ball and what we can expect to see in camp (when it does eventually get underway)

Quarterback

Projected starter: Cody Fajardo (honestly felt like typing another name here just to get a rise out of people. Only issue is I know someone would take me seriously and agree).

In the mix: Mason Fine, Jake Dolegala, Troy Williams

The only thing to watch here is Dolegala vs. Fine for back-up QB (or as its more popularly known in Saskatchewan “everyone’s favourite person”). Troy Williams is nothing more than an extra arm in training camp. Fine should have the leg up based on spending last year here and seeing the field but Dolegala will have a chance to unseat him.

Running Back

Projected Starter: Jamal Morrow or Shaq Cooper

In the mix: Trumaine Pope, Frankie Hickson

I was a bit surprised to see both Moreland and Covington released following rookie camp. What started as an open competition is looking more and more like Morrow vs. Cooper and the newcomers are competing for a PR spot. Honestly I think this will boil down more to who pass blocks best. We are a pass-based team so the majority of what the RB will do is block. Cooper has height but Morrow is pretty solid for a smaller guy. My gut says Cooper ends up starting and Morrow is the back-up/returner again. Either way, we won’t know anything about the RBs until preseason games.

O-Line

Projected starters: Terran Vaughn, Logan Ferland, Dan Clark, Evan Johnson, Jamal Campbell

In the mix: Josiah St John, Logan Bandy, Zach Fry, Diego Alatorre-Montoya (prepare to die), Andrew Lauderdale, Tommy Champion, Na’ty Rogers, Maurice Simba, Noah Johnson, Kooper Richardson

The single most important competition in camp. There are 2 distinct parts to watch. First and foremost, we need to find 2 mildly competent tackles (which would represent a massive upgrade over 2021). Second we need to establish some reliable depth in the interior. At tackle healthy Terran Vaughn will start. Campbell should be the leader for the other one. I see Rogers and Lauderdale as the main competitors as they have experience (though both were on lines that performed terribly last season). Would love one of the new Americans to be awesome but not holding my breath. The retirement of Reilly means that we need to find 2 viable back-ups out of St John, Bandy, Fry and Montoya. Fry (with the ability to play tackle) is the one we really need to pan out. Our Cdn OL depth has taken a hit over the years with the retirements of Reilly, Jake Bennett, Brendan Labatte and Braden Schram and the departure of Shepley to the NFL. We need to start developing the next generation of OL now.

Receiver

Project Starters: Duke Williams, Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, Kian Shaefer-Baker, Justin McInnis

In the mix: Paul McRoberts, Xavier Ubosi, Jamal Custis, Jester Weah, Jeremiah Haydel, Jakob Prall, Tevin Jones, Jonathan Johnson, Dieuly Aristilde, Mitch Picton, Jake Harty, Wesley Lewis, Riley Boersma.

Starters are set so this is all about the competition for back-up. At American receiver, we have been searching for a reliable guy for a while. Been through Carlos Henderson, Ricardo, Louis and Paul McRoberts (who is vying to break Mitch Picton’s record for most years spent on the PR) and still looking. Canadian WR won’t really be a competition until 1st round pick Sam Emilus shows up. Picton and Harty are depth, not starters. Honestly don’t see Wesley Lewis doing much here. There is some early hype on Boersma but let’s see if that continues when he’s lining up against veterans and not just guys who have never played the Canadian game before.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Rookie Camp

Note: Today’s post intentionally ignores all the drama and posturing of CFLPA negotiations.  They will get a buzzer beater deal, they always do. So I’m assuming that in the analysis that is contained below.

Note 2: Use of the term “analysis” in the preceding paragraph intentionally glosses over the journalistic and grammatical shortcomings, legally I'm not even sure I can call it analysis.

Rookie camps open this week. Kicking of the start to another CFL season. I’m pretty pumped. My liver, vocal chords and family connections may not be. But I am.

Today we are going to take a look at some of the roster spots were those coming to rookie camp have a legit chance to make an impact.

Normally I would start with QB. In Saskatchewan, affection for the back-up QB falls only behind that for perogies and half tons in the ranking system. Problem is we have exactly 3 qbs on the roster. So the only thing to watch will be if Jake Dolegala can unseat Mason Fine for #2. I assume there will be at least one more QB in camp at some point.

The most wide open spot on the roster is RB. Its an open competition. While Morrow and Cooper certainly have the advantage, rookies like Shamar Moreland, Frankie Hickson and Justin Covington will be given every opportunity. Moreland is the one I’m most interested in. He’s the lightest and presumably the fastest of the bunch.

There will always be opportunity at American receiver. We need depth and last season showed that odds are good those depth guys get called on due to injury at some point. Guys like Paul McRoberts and Ricardo Louis have had moments but failed to lock down the spot with any certainty. The new recruits include Justin Weah, Darvin Kidsy, Xavier Ubosi, Jamal Custis, Jakob Prall, Tevin Jones and Jonathan Jonhson. At 6’4, Jamal Custis out of Syracuse is an intriguing prospect.

Sure be nice to find an offensive tackle or two… honestly half of one would be an improvement over last season. We do have veterans in Vaughn, Na’ty Rogers, Jamal Campbell and a returning Andrew Lauderdale but man would I love to see one Tommy Champion (he has to be good right?), Bryce Hargrove, Ka’John Armstrong (who spent time on the PR last season) or Kooper Richardson be awesome... or serviceable… or occasionally capable of blocking somebody. Also with rumours that Mattland Riley may be retiring, it will be important to see what we have in 2021 pick Logan Bandy and 2022 picks Fry and Aldo Montoya (prepare to die).

D-Line will be tough to crack as we had such a huge 2021 recruiting class with Marino, Robertson, Lanier and Adams. Also (fingers crossed), Jonathan Woodard was recently released by the KC Chiefs. We do need a D-tackle to replace Micah. Based purely on size and pedigree Miles Brown is the most intriguing. But I’m always skeptical when a DL with NFL size ends up here so quickly. Usually a good reason for that. Nick Coe spent some time on the PR so he’s another I have my eye on.

Linebackers should be a tough group to break. We have rock solid starters and guys like Gary Johnson and Nigel Harris looked decent in limited time last season so we should have depth. But both missed a lot of time due to injury so there is room for competition there. Luke Holloway and Jason Momoka (if the Riders are smart they keep this guy around. You can attract a lot of ladies to the game thinking they will be seeing Jason Momoa) are about the only “rookies” (plus our most recent draft picks).

Secondary we have 2 needs and pressing and one that I am speculating. We need a halfback, open competition there. I also wonder, whether the movement of the hashmarks (and the added space on the short side) will impact Nick Marshall at all. Space is not his friend (as evidenced by his that time he was forced to play HB). Might be nothing but its certainly in the back of my mind. Names like Josh Nurse, Amari Henderson, Will Sunderland, Brian Cole, Stephen Denmark, CJ Reavis, TJ Morisson, Levonta Taylor, LeVonte Larry and Jermaine Kelly are the new recruits (though I expect a couple to be move to compete at cover LB). Stephen Denmark is fast and was a late NFL pick, so I’ll be watching him. Josh Nurse is another name on my radar. He was a Stamp recruit in 2021 and Hufnagel seems to know a thing or 2.

Really looking forward to actual football being back. There should really be prop bet on the 2022 Terrence Nunn. For those more recent fans, Terrence Nunn was a training camp phenom who had all the fans raving only to accomplish only slightly more than me in his CFL career. We will hype someone so much that would will think they are a surefire hall of famer, only for them to be cut really early. It’s what we do.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Friday Morning Sentimonies: 2022 Draft Class

After spending a couple months extremely sporadically posting, I’m going the opposite direction and posting twice in the same week. Don’t worry I’m sure I’ll compensate at some point by missing a Monday post. But the season is coming quick and so its time to get serious about this… I mean as serious as a dude in a robe who uses words like sentimonies can get.

The draft went down Thursday both the real one and the Global draft. I won’t say too much about the Global one, other than to say our first round pick LB Jordan Genmark Heath played at Notre Dame and UCLA and has been invited to camp with the KC Chiefs. We might actually me making progress in terms of quality from the glorified paperweight of a Mexican OL we took in the first global draft. I will also give the Riders credit for drafting zero kickers. To be fair, we do have 2 already on the roster but we do appear to be trying. 

In terms of the actual draft, I was not enamoured with our early round strategy. Look, Sam Emilus is a great prospect. He was expected to be a top 4 pick and is one of the top WR in the draft. The issue is not with him, he is a good prospect. The issue is one of need. Our OL was awful last year and other than Mattland Riley, our depth is questionable there. Our D-line had many loses this offseason. We only really have Charbel Dabire there for Canadians. If you aren’t good in the trenches you won’t win, its that simple and we have needs there. Yet we went receiver. A position where we have Baker, McInnis, Picton and Harty. A position that at best will be the #4 target in our offense. Emilus is good but I’m not sure he was so good that we couldn’t chance missing on him.

Obviously anyone who passed on the likes or Clermont or Fantuz thinking they didn’t need a receiver would have the regrets. But here is a list of first round WRs in the last 10 years:

·        Shamawd Chambers,  Devon Bailey, Nic Demski, Brian Jones, Tevaugn Smith, Danny Vandervoot, Nate Behar, Mark Chapman, Justin McInnis, Hergy Mayala, Dejon Brissett

Given that maybe 3 of those are what I would consider impact WRs, the odds would lean towards Emilus not being the next Clermont or Fantuz.

Time will tell if O’Day knows better than me. He did rightly use his 2nd and 3rd round picks on OL. So that was good to see. Zach Fry can play tackle which is a plus. The book on him is great technique, lacking in strength. That’s something that can be developed easier than technique. Diego Altore Montoya (or as I will be saying ad nauseum this season: My name is Diego Montoyo, you sacked my quarterback, prepare to die) is the opposite, strong nasty, maybe not as refined technically. He can play any position on the line which is always a plus.

Rounds 4 -7 were all about potential special teamers: LB Tommy Bringi, B Tristan Fleury, DB Jayden Dalke and DB Zach Herzog. Hopefully one of them can develop into something. A few years back 5th round pick Alex Chevrier became an excellent special teamer. Undrafted Jacob Dearborn managed to be a decent defensive player. So there’s a chance. Rounding out the draft class was Regina Ram WR Riley Boersma. He’s a longshot to make it out of camp, as any 8th rounder would be.

So overall I think we had a good night. We didn’t pull a Chris Jones and use a pick on a guy with one college game to his name. We didn’t overreach for a player. We did build depth. I think we are still lacking quality Canadian defensive depth but it wasn’t a very deep draft defensively.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: CFL Draft Preview 2022

Sorry for the lack of posting over the last few weeks. Life’s been a bit busy and I squeezed a vacation to Vegas in there as well. The fact that I am currently not showing off a diamond encrusted prophet staff tells you everything you need to know about whether I won big while in Sin City.

The CFL Draft goes down tomorrow and it will bring some much needed change to the CFL offseason. I think we are all tired of talking ratio and rules and such. It will be refreshing to talk about actual football players. Now, granted 90% of the players taken tomorrow, you will know nothing about, but it will be fun to discuss them endlessly and make cases for why the Riders 7th round draft pick was a waste of a pick (spoiler alert, all 7th round picks typically end up being a waste of a pick, getting mad over who we do or don’t take there is ridiculous).

I won’t spend any time on the Global Draft. I still think that there is logic to this initiative, it will just take a multiple year commitment to grow. But honestly, I know precious little about the Canadian players. Do you really think anyone is qualified to discus the merits of a Finnish receiver over a Uzbekistani safety? I will say this… I like our choice of Christopher N-Ezeala last year. The trendy thing to do is roster global kickers (which we do) but I think you should try and find guys who can play special teams. Let them take a few hits and bumps away from our Americans and Canadians if you have to roster one.  

Back to the Canadian Draft… Something that I don’t think has happened since I’ve been covering the Riders is set to occur other than 2021 which was a weird year coming off no season (at least until I post this and the Riders render the next sentence incorrect within minutes). The Riders have all their own picks. Between trades and supplemental draft we routinely are short a few of our own picks. This is good because despite a decent showing in 2021, we still have holes to fill.  

Picks: 8 picks, first selection is 7th Overall

Potential Pipeline: DL David Oneymata (New Orleans), TE Anthony Auclair (Houston), DL Neville Gallimore (Dallas), TE Bruno Labelle (free agent, was with Arizona Cardinals)

Current Strengths:

Despite the departure of Lenius (and to a lesser extend Jana), we remain strong at receiver. Schaefer-Baker leads the way (looking to take the next step in year 2) with McInnis and Picton for depth. Technically Harty is there as well but his contribution is on teams only at this point (not that that isn’t important).

I rarely had a positive thing to say about our OL in 2021 but I still believe in that interior. After a year learning the ropes I expect Logan Ferland to be rock solid this coming season. Evan Johnson should bounce back (assuming we have a mildly competent tackle lined up beside him). Clark is not the best centre but he’s been good enough in recent years. Jamal Campbell is a nice addition to the top end Canadian talent. Riley and St John are around for depth.

Defensively we have some impact starters in Edem and Teitz. Still find it weird describing Teitz as an impact starter but here we are. We will hopefully get to see what we have in 2021 2nd overall pick Nelson Lokombo. Godfrey Oneyka is a versatile guy capable of stepping in in multiple positions. I continue to be a founding member of the Charbel Dabire fan club. I also want to see what we have in Cimankinda. Just have a gut feel about him.

Guys like LaFrance, Awachie and Herdman will be unheralded but are important role players. Also no list of Canadian strengths is complete without a mention of Brett F’N Lauther.

Current Needs:

When I look at our roster I can clearly see solid Canadian starters. But outside of receiver, we are an injury away from trouble at most of those spots. Based on last season O’Day would be wise to continue to invest in the OL as we all saw how easily a bad one can sewer an otherwise good team. The other side of the trenches also need a boost. Dabire is a guy I hype but he’s not yet a bonafide starter and there is not much other than him.

In theory Oneyka and Lokombo give you the depth needed for Teitz and Edem but more would be nice.

Honestly, other than receiver and kicker, any pick would address an area of need.

Prediction:

It’s somewhat lazy mock drafting to always assume the Riders will take the hometown offensive lineman… but in this case all those mock drafts that have us taking U of S tackle Noah Zerr are onto something. We need all the help we can get at tackle and there is a reasonable chance Zerr falls to 7. If that happens we won’t let him slide any further. We may still be waiting on Mattland Riley to show his stuff but we’ve had pretty good success overall with linemen from Saskie Universities. If its not Zerr than it could be another OL (like Zach Pelehos or Gregory MacKellar) or a DL (if by some miracle Dionte Knight drops).

Second round will most likely be used on defense. A DB like Tyrell Ford, a DL like Nathan Cherry or a LB like Josiah Shackel. We need some more upper end Canadian defensive talent to boost our ranks and depth. 

Beyond that the Rider will draft the best player available regardless of position. It would really help to get a late round pick that at least develops into a contributor. Schaefer-Baker (4th rd) and Mitch Picton (5th rd) are the only 4th round or later picks in the last few years that I can recall doing anything.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi-Coherent Thoughts

Here is a smattering of my football-related thoughts in no particular order other than what they came to me.

After an initial free-agency splash with Moncrief and Sankey, the Riders went deathly quiet. Primarily because they wisely chose to build from within. But quietly over the last couple weeks O’day has made some late stage signings that could offer great value to the team. First it was potential starting Canadian OL Jamal Campbell (who we got for less than his market value based on the timing of his release from the Argos). This past week it was RB Shaq Cooper. I really liked him in Edmonton in 2019 and thought he should be a starter. Then he went to BC last season with the chance to start and couldn’t even earn playing time on the worst rushing team in the CFL behind James Butler. Butler was not… what’s the word I’m looking for? …. Good. Hell Michael Reilly got more carries than Cooper. So there is certainly some risk. But for a late signing he is potentially a starter if he can recapture his 2019 form. At worst he is a low risk addition to the training camp battle to replace Powell.  Other than we now have one too many Shaq’s for me to keep straight, I’m all thumbs up on this one.

Speaking of the Riders, they released their “new fun and interactive themes” for 2022 (their words not mine). It includes such innovative themes as Home Opener, Canada Day, Labour Day, Family Day and Lights Out Game. Don’t get me wrong, I like Labour Day and the lights out game but copying and pasting the previous themes and trying to pass them off as “new” is laughable. While other teams are actually being innovative (i.e. the RedBlacks Behind the R series and the engagement that Victor Chui is leading for the Elks on social media) the Riders are showing all the creativity of that Simpsons where they gave Malibu Stacy a new hat. They don’t have to try and they know it. At some point this resting on their laurels will catch up with them. I just hope they don’t dig too big a hole before realizing it.

The term “nationalized Canadians” has been a big topic of conversation recently. For those who don’t know basically they are revisiting the idea of veteran Americans counting as Canadians if they stay with a team for a certain tenure. Now I am all for this in principle. Look, we awarded and celebrated “Canadians” like Ben Cahoon who is about as Canadian as an American dollar bill that happened to be in a Canadian’s wallet once. Compare that to a guy like Wes Cates who was American but chose to make his home here and remains a fixture in the community. If people will commit to this country and our game we can commit to them. My only ask is that the only way to qualify is staying with the same team for 3+ years. You leave the team it resets to 0. The original proposal said that vets of 4 years total counted and I hate that. This is about promoting and rewarding roster continuity. A guy who plays for 4 teams in 4 years adds nothing in terms of value.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi-Coherent Thoughts

I’m back. Sorry for essentially taking the month of March (or as I am petitioning it to be renamed Lousy Smarch) off. I decided to try and hold out for more money… which doesn’t work so well when you are your own employer. Anyway, I’m back and let’s get caught up on what’s happening.

Jamal Campbell is a big time signing. The Argos, in their infinite wisdom, decided that spending on an aging Andrew Harris was a priority over a 28 year old starting Canadian OL. Their questionable decision making is our win as we not only scooped up a solid player but also got him cheaper than he would normally go for. Brett Boyko was employed purely because he happened to play tackle and happened to be Canadian. Jamal Campbell is actually good at the playing part, his passport is a bonus not the only redeeming quality. With Vaughn, Na’ty Rogers and Campbell we are looking to have an actually competition at training camp and possibly some depth… as opposed to that garbage the fans, and Fajardo, were forced to endure.

Speaking of Fajardo. I recently discovered that he blocked me on Twitter. Not really sure when that happened, and definitely not sure why. I like Fajardo and have certainly not been hating on him… and I’m a guy who doesn’t shy away from hating on people. Had this been Dan Clark, Brett Boyko, Jon Ryan, etc... I’d completely understand. Kinda like the time I made a joke about Luca Congi being pro-cancer and his girlfriend ripped me a new one. Cause and effect, I understood that one. But for whatever reason, Fajardo has blocked me (maybe he doesn’t like my “I have a Fajardon” t-shirts?). I find it amusing, though would like to know what my transgression was.

Most of this past month has been spent rehashing the 3 vs. 4 down conversation. Which is stupid and I’m not wading into it. Lots of potential rule changes are also being chatted about. Refs riding trained ostriches still doesn’t get the traction is deserves as a suggestion.

Any conversation about rules needs to be rooted in this principle: encourage/incentivize exciting plays and discourage/disincentivize boring plays. Best example of this was the tweak to converts to encourage going for 2 (more exciting play) and discourage settling for 1 (boring play). The one that tops my list of suggested tweaks has to do with punting. Simply put any punt that does not land in the field of play should be a penalty. A while back they added the penalty for it going out between the 20’s (which was a good start) but it needs to go farther. Even though directional punting has been an endangered species in Saskatchewan for the last couple years, I still respect the skill of the actual good punters who can coffin corner. But Richie Leone just punting it straight out of bounds without even trying to have it land in bounds is a super boring play. Not to mention that its counter to all football logic that being in bounds just doesn’t matter in that situation. Land 6 inches in bounds and bounce out? Great play. Not land in bounds at all, even if it “goes out” past the 20? Should be penalized.

Tied to that, while I am a diehard fan and lifelong supporter of the rouge. I would be in favour of a minor tweak to that rule in the interest of not rewarding boring plays. Simply expand the rule on kickoffs, to punts and FG. The ball must be downed in the endzone to get the single point. If it goes straight out of bounds, no point. Still keeps the best part of the rouge (encouraging returns, plus the extremely Canadian punt it back and forth out of the endzone to end a close game play) while still not incentivizing boring plays.

I would also make challenges illegal in the following 2 scenarios: preseason games and in the final 8 minutes of any game where a team leads by 3 scores or more. The penalty would not be yards, but the opposing QB would get to throw a football at the groin of the offending coach as hard as he can from close distance.  

Monday, February 28, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Marketing

I am of course primarily a Rider fan but I love the CFL as a whole. So I find it great to see other teams doing such awesome things. Ottawa is doing the Behind the R series which is giving an incredible view behind the scenes (much watch if you haven't checked it out). Edmonton ran a promotion for $99 season tickets targeting families. BC has a family zone with $10 tickets and $85 for the season and is starting to hype a big party for the season opener. The more each time succeeds, the more the league succeeds and I think that is great.

It got me thinking about what the Riders are doing from a marketing perspective to keep pace with their competitors and attract new interest and fans. The answer is unfortunately nothing.

As is too often the case in Riderville since 2007, the Riders are resting on their laurels and adopting a “if you build it, they will come” approach. Take a look at what percentage of games have sold out since the new stadium opened and you’ll see how well that approach is working. I would describe it the way Chris Jones describes Darian Durant… moderately successful. Sure we are doing above average in terms of CFL teams but we have sold out 2 games in the past 2 seasons… seasons that featured us fishing 1st and 2nd and earning home playoff games. And that’s “announced” sellouts by the team. Actual butts in the seats are always much less that what ticket sales are.

So if moderately successful is what you want then by all means, continue resting on your laurels. But the fan base is not getting younger so at some point it will become a big enough problem to matter financially. Do you want to be proactive about that? Or wait until its too late?

Here are my thoughts on what the Riders should be doing to help market the team.

 Hook The Kids

Any moderately useful marketer knows the power of a child nagging their parents. To grow the next generation of football fans you gotta get them hooked at a young age. Its clear that the new leadership in BC and Edmonton have clued into this. But as it stands the Riders don’t seem to care. Its expensive to go to games. Its expensive to feed them even the lowest grade popcorn and hotdogs. Also, how prominent are kids during the in game entertainment? Not very. Go to a Regina Pats game and they get it. Every break kids are plastered on the jumbotron. That is crack to a child. My son has been coming to games with me since the new stadium opened. You know how often in that time the cameras or prize giveaways have come to the second deck in that time? Once. It used to be a regular thing in the old stadium but now the Riders rest on their laurels and put in minimal effort. And given the high price of seats, where do lots of non-season ticket holding kids sit? The second deck. Make kids (all kids) the focal point of the game day experience and it will pay dividends both in long term fans and short term ticket/food sales. My kid would damn near pay for a chance to dance on the Jumbotron. 

Also don’t limit it to game day. If you are from Regina you know the massive success of Flag football. The spring league is one of the biggest on the continent. You know what all those kids are walking around wearing as living billboards? NFL logos.  Guarantee most kids could name more NFL teams/players than CFL ones. The CFL used to sponsor fall flag and my kids used to have CFL gear to wear around. But they pulled out of that a few years back for reasons I don’t understand.

Affordability

This is tied to getting kids/families in the stadium. Its bloody expensive to go to a game. To get into a game is $60-100 easy and that only gets you the right to buy insanely expensive booze and food.  Any time you don’t sell out it’s a wasted opportunity (and as mentioned, we are not selling out). Much like other teams are doing we need a set of really cheap tickets (like $10) to get people in the door. We also need a value menu. I’m totally cool with high priced options (I mean occasionally a guy just wants a 2 foot hotdog) but have a small value menu: $1 pop, $2 popcorn, $3 hotdog $5 draft beer. Not only will this make the games more affordable for new fans, it would also suck more money out of existing guys like me. Most games I spend $0 on food (mostly out of principle). Give me a value menu and you would bleed my dry toonies at a time.

Market your stars

I want you to honestly think about which Rider players have been the most hyped. Its Dan Clark and Jon Ryan. Now I get the hometown connection but can you imagine an NFL team with their centre and punter as the most hyped guys? 

Who should we be hyping? Obviously Fajardo. Dude is not only the face of the franchise he’s immensely likeable. When “Sprinkles of Jesus” became a thing it wasn’t the Riders who seized on the marketing gold, it was a local podcast, Piffle Podcast, that made shirts for charity. Guys like Leonard, Shaq, Moore, Duke, Moncrief their faces should be plastered around. These are the playmakers that people will notice when they come to the game. Whatever happened to Fantuz Flakes, All-Dressler chips, or the infamous Dressler teaser-pleaser Humpty's commercial… hell look at how iconic the Jurasin bandana was (the fact that I can’t buy one today at the Rider store boggles my mind).

Yet we have spent too much of our efforts hyping the likes of a fullback called the Canuck Truck, 4th string receiver Jason Clermont in addition to the aforementioned mediocre punter and moderate liability of a centre.  

Not going to go too far down this rabbit hole but you have to admit that for a sport that is predominately played by African Americans, we sure give a disproportionate amount of marketing attention to white players in Saskatchewan.

 So there you have it. What are your ideas for the Riders to better market themselves?

Monday, February 21, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: What If?

With a bit of a lull in terms of CFL news with free agency activity slowing down, I thought I’d take the chance to do something different.

I’m a big Marvel fan. Recently they did a series call What If? where they explore alternate universes based on one key event going different than it did originally. I realize that heartbreak isn’t exclusive to the Riders but there is healthy dose of it in our history. The plane crash of the 50s, 1975 and 2009, just to name a few. So the concept of What If? Just fits so well with the Riders.

Today will look at 5 such scenarios and the alternate universes that are out there. (I'm leaving out 2009 intentionally. A) its almost too obvious and B) I still like to repress pretty much every memory of that season) 

What if Paul McCallum makes the kick?

The year is 2005. Henry Burris is playing arguably his best game ever in green and white. The Riders have pushed the heavily favoured BC Lions to overtime. McCallum is lining up for an 18 yard FG. Of course we know he tragically missed. But What If he made it?

There is an alternate universe out there where McCallum makes the kick and we win the game. We go on to defeat the Argos in the Grey Cup, snapping the drought at a measly 15 years. Not only does McCallum go on to unquestionably surpass Ridgeway as the greatest kicker in franchise history but he also remains beloved by all and manure stays in its rightful place. But in this universe, McCallum isn’t the only one with a drastically different fate. In this universe, Henry Burris is revered as a Rider legend and one of the most beloved heroes in franchise history.

What if Kevin Glenn doesn’t break his arm?

I firmly believe the Riders still win the ’07 Grey Cup even if Kevin Glenn plays (just in a very different manner). But I will readily admit that the Bombers’ chance of winning would have gone from negligible with Dinwiddie at the helm, to very possible with Glenn. So what if Kevin Glenn played?

There is an alternate universe where the Bombers (and not the Riders) end their streak of no cups in 2007. Kevin Glenn (with a Grey cup ring and Grey Cup MVP to his name) is regarded among the best QBs ever in the CFL and his candidacy for the Hall of Fame is not in question. In this universe, Milt Stegal even knows what a Grey Cup ring is. In this universe, it’s the Riders who wallow another decade plus before winning another Grey Cup.

What if Marcus Crandell’s hamstring holds up?

The year is 2008. Fresh off winning MOP, Kerry Joseph has been shipped to Toronto and Marcus Crandell is set to lead the Riders' bid for a repeat. His hamstring lasted about 47 seconds into game 2 and it eventually led to Darian Durant’s debut in the CFL. That would be the springboard to a long successful career for Durant (or moderately successful by Chris Jones standards). But what if Crandall had finished that game.

There is an alternate universe where Darian Durant never plays in 2008 and returns to the US to find a non-football career following the end of a season where he watches Crandall and Jyles get reps ahead of him (that is a form of torture so harsh that its outlawed by international law). Crandall guides the Riders to a forgettable 9-9 record and loss in the Division finals. The only upside to this universe is that Michael Bishop never becomes a Rider.

What if the play that never happened, never happened?

The year is 2014. The Riders are defending champions and sit at 7-2 heading into Banjo Bowl and are once again the best team in the CFL. On a play that never officially happened, a Winnipeg D-lineman blew passed a useless Dan Clark (he was an absolute trainwreck as a guard, moving to centre saved his career) and hit Darian Durant, snapping a tendon in his elbow. The Riders would go on to win just 3 of the remaining 9 games and lost to Edmonton in a game where Kerry Joseph was determined to set an all time record for interceptions thrown. But what if Durant didn’t get injured?

There is an alternate universe where a healthy Durant leads to Riders to continue to steamroll the league. They go on to win back to back Grey Cups. In this universe, Durant is unquestionably one of the greatest Riders ever. In this universe, Chris Jones even upgrades his assessment to “fairly” successful. But it’s not just Durant’s fate who has wildly alternated by the play that never happened. In this universe, Cory Chamblin (as the only 2 time Grey in franchise history) doesn’t have his famous 2015 collapse and has a long tenure and finishes as the best coach in franchise history.

What if Simoni Lawrence played by the rules?

The year is 2019. With one vicious head tackle, Simoni Lawrence sets in motion a series of events that saves a wallowing franchise and launches a career (it also may be indirectly responsible for a global pandemic but I digress). His headshot on Zach Collaros ended the QBs’ time with the Riders and made way for Cody Fajardo to become the franchise QB in Riderville. It also led to Zach Collaros being traded to Toronto and eventually Winnipeg and winning back to back Grey Cups. But what if Simoni was a cheap shotting douchebag?

There is an alternate universe where Cody Fajardo is a mildly successful insurance salesman in the States who is no more than a footnote on the CFL history books. Zach Collaros leads the Riders (not the Bombers) to a Grey Cup win in 2019. In this universe, Simoni Lawrence is the world’s nicest guy. The Bombers still haven’t won a Grey Cup and everyone outside of Manitoba is generally very happy about life.

Do you have any "What Ifs?" to add to the list?

Monday, February 14, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency So Far

When it comes to free agency there is only one of 2 reactions that ever occur in Riderville. Either we start planning the parade route based on how many great signings we have made or we question the competency of the GM for not doing anything and assume the sky is falling. That’s it. There is no in between. This year we are leaning to the latter.

Before I get into my thoughts on how the Riders have fared so far in free agency let me just point out that if your team is super active in free agency it probably means you were terrible last year (i.e. Ottawa and BC). Good teams, by their nature have less holes to fill and need to be less active. So if you are measuring success by the number of signings, you are in for a disappointment down the road. Many years the Bombers “won” free agency only for their season to end in disappointment. More recently they have opted for stability, similar to Hufnagel’s approach in Calgary and they are winning. (Side note it seems that Toronto likes Hufnagel’s approach so much that they also have adopted a policy of signing only Stampeder players).

Those expecting big Rider news this week have clearly been underwhelmed. O’Day opened with 2 massive signings Tuesday. Signed a receiver we are likely to cut in camp on Wednesday and actually cut a player Thursday. But you have to look at the whole of O’Day’s work, not just what he did this week.

Wisely deciding that continuity was important for a team that as been to back to back West Finals, O’Day did the bulk of his work in December. He locked up Ferland and the white Johnson (a young interior that should continue to improve). He kept Terran Vaughn, who when healthy is a legit starting tackle. He kept Shaq, Moore and Duke, along with McInnis and Picton. He made sure that AC Leonard stayed in the fold coming off his best season ever. He kept key Canadians in Teitz, Edem and Oneyka. He brought back Dean and Marshall. He made sure everyone’s favourite kicker stayed in Green and White. He kept a strong core in tact and as a result didn’t have to be super busy come free agency.

Bringing back Derrick Moncrief is massive. He’s one of my favourite players in recent years. He locks down one of the toughest positions on defense. As a reminder, last year that spot was an ever changing roulette wheel that included Hendy, Oneyka, Dearborn and Bouka. The stability and excellence that Moncrief brings will be a huge plus. Given that we re-signed Dean I was surprised to see us target Darnell Sankey. Makes me think that a) Dean came relatively cheap and b) he may not be ready for week 1. Never a bad thing to add the league leader in tackles to secure the middle. Sankey is a playmaker. Think back to last year when we were looking to replace Judge/Elimimian/Moncrief and the only experience LB we had (Dean) blew his achilles. We are miles ahead of that and LBs will be a strength for us this season.

But I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass (odd expression by the way) and say that the Riders have improved as a team. I would say, at best we have maintained.

Offensively, a full season a Duke is certainly a plus. I have zero concerns with Morrow if he’s our starting RB. Vaughn helps the OL but there are still concerns there. Yes we added Na’ty Rodgers but he comes from Ottawa… the only team to allow more sacks than the Riders last season. So our O-line is still the big question mark. We also have no proven depth at QB… though honestly its not like Mason Fine is much of a difference from entering 2021 with Harker. So based solely on Duke, I’ll say the offense is slightly improved from 2021.

Defensively though it’s a different story. As mentioned our LBs are stacked and will be solid. But we lost a ton in the other positions and didn’t add any replacements. Along the line we lost Micah, Henry and Woodard and have signed zero replacements. AC is a stud and I like the potential of Marino, Robertson and Lanier in year 2 but at this point I would have to say our line is a downgrade from last season. Not doom and gloom, but a downgrade. Overall the secondary is solid with Edem, Webb, Clark and (sigh) Marshall. But we lost both Gainey and Purifoy. That’s 2 starting HBs. Webb takes the place of one of them no problem but the other? We currently have nobody else who has played HB on the roster (except Marshall but he is a trainwreck at HB). So again 4 out of 5 is pretty solid but our secondary at this point is not as good as last year. Jason Shivers showed last year that he can cobble together a solid D with whatever rag tag roster you give him so we are in good hands despite the uncertainty.

There are still some names out there in free agency that could help us. Also don’t forget that the season doesn’t start next week and we still have new recruits and the CFL draft to fill out the roster. He’s a few areas I would like to see us address.

O-line – As mentioned, tackle is still a concern. That might have to be addressed through recruiting (we did so well at that last year) as the only vet left out there is Justin Renfrow. We have also been linked to negotiations with Nolan MacMillan. I see him as a better Boyko. Primarily a guard but can play tackle in an emergency. Would be a nice depth add ideally as a back-up.

Receiver – I’m pumped about our top 4. Duke, Shaq, Moore and Schaefer-Baker. Man if Cody has any protection at all that’s a dangerous combo. But I also remember that last year I was pumped about Shaq, Moore and Williams-Lambert and 2 ended up not finishing the season and one missed significant time. My point is, depth is going to be needed. There are some intriguing names still out there that would bring great depth probably at a reasonable price. A few former Riders are out there. Ricky Collins just keeps producing everywhere he goes. Armanti Edwards and Kenny Stafford are also vet options. Possibly also DeVier Posey.

D-line – Nevis Drake is still sitting out there. Man do I want him. Some other options along the edge like Thiadric Hansen, Cordarrow Law and Chris Casher to help with the loss of Woodard. We will need to look to the draft to add some Canadian depth here.

Secondary – Most HBs have been snapped up. Jamar Wall is an intriguing name. At 34, I’m not sure if he intends to keep playing. But he is a guy who can play safety, HB and cover LB. Jeff Richards is really the only other true HB on the market. There are also a number of cornerbacks out there and for the right price they could provide great competition in camp. Guys like: Frankie Williams, Jonathan Mincy, Jonathan Rose, in that order of preference.

Defensive Canadian Depth – With 3 defensive starters last seasons, we routinely rostered 7 Canadian defenders. We currently have 11 total on the roster and that includes 5 draft picks/new recruits who have never taken a snap. Getting Lokombo on the field is a big plus and I’m a believer in Cimankinda but it would be nice to have an actual competition in camp and some depth there. Draft will be the primary way we address this but a couple vet Canadians from free agency would be nice as well.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Week

By the time Tuesday finally gets here all the excitement about the opening of free agency might be gone. Most players have already announced the deals they totally can’t officially sign until Tuesday. It will just be a steady string of press releases making official deals that we’ve know about for days. By this point if you’re a free agent who hasn’t signed you gotta start wondering if there will be any cash left for you.

It's been a busy few days so let’s get you caught up.

Who we kept

The big news of course is that we kept Duke… and paid him handsomely. His one year, $260K contract makes him the highest paid receiver in the CFL. Honestly did not think O’Day would pay him what it would take. I’m happy he did, he just hasn’t been the type to sign these “highest paid” deals. With Duke, Shaq and Moore we have one hell of an offense brewing… assuming we find a way to actually pass block.

We kept Larry Dean. Assuming he’s healthy its an important signing as we need a strong veteran presence in the middle. We also re-signed Pete Robertson. I’m really excited to see what guys like Robertson, Woodard, Lanier and Marino can do in year 2.

Who we lost… it’s a growing list

Gainey is reuniting with Jones in Edmonton (sounds like Mak Henry too). Micah is off to Hamilton. Purifoy is getting paid to return to BC. Powell is going back to Ottawa. Jon Ryan is… well he’s just not coming back.  

Gainey is not surprising… though I felt a lot better about letting him go before Purifoy also left. I’m a big Purifoy fan so he’s a loss and his versatility is going to be tough to replace. I enjoy Micah’s 1 year here followed by 1year signing somewhere else pattern and look forward to his return in 2023. He is also a loss but we are betting on AC and the new recruits being ready to carry that line. Powell is not much of a loss. I like him but he is not a good age for an RB and should be replaceable. As for Jon Ryan, I get the sentimental aspect here but from a purely performance standpoint he was a mediocre CFL punter who was among the top paid at his position and was closing in on 40. What part of that equation says re-sign him? He is a great person and his overall football career is damn impressive but he never finished above 5th in net punting as a Rider.  

Who we should be targeting

We have 3 primary needs and a couple less pressing ones heading into Tuesday. We still need an offensive tackle. Options are essentially limited to Rykar Matthew (please, please, please) and Justin Renfrow (still better than watching Boyko and Jefferson embarrass themselves). We need a halfback. Options there include DeShaun Amos, Richard Leonard, Nick Taylor, or Jeff Richards. Amos would be the top target. Leonard strikes me as a slightly more likely/affordable. We also need a cover LB. Moncrief, Darby, Cioffi, Unamba and Levels are all options. 

Assuming Marino stays healthy we don’t need at DT but it would be nice to add one. Steven Richardson is the top option but he should get paid so a more value option may be Drake Nevis or Woody Baron. Also we will need to add some Canadian special teamers with both Herdmans, Dearborn, Francis and Bouka still unsigned. We do get Lokombo back and there is still the draft but we are a little thin there.

Some chatter linking us to Darnell Sankey. He’s a phenomenal player but I’m sure I see him as priority in terms of spending with Dean and Teitz locked in at LB. I mean I'd take gladly take him but not the biggest area of need. 

Be interesting to see what O’Day has up his sleeves tomorrow… though in all likelihood all our signings will be leaked within 5 mins of me posting this if history is any indication.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agent Shopping

The negotiation period, aka legal tampering, has started. That of course means that good old fashioned illegal tampering has been going fast and furious for months. Free agency opens on Feb 8. So let’s take a look at what is left in terms of Rider potential free agents and where O’Day might be looking.

The Riders still have a pretty extensive list of free agents but for me there’s a “Big 3” that are priorities and then there’s the rest that are less of a big deal. Originally it was a Big 4 as Brett Lauther was on the list but we locked him up which is huge. If you want a cautionary tale on assuming kickers are easily replaceable look at BC, Winnipeg and Hamilton last year. 

 My big 3 are as follows:

Louchiez Purifoy – I still don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is. I’ll add that he is still just 29 years old. Versatile, impact defender. Keeping him would allow us to roll with a secondary of Marshall, Purifoy, Edem, Webb and J Clark. That would be pretty darn good.

Duke Williams – This is the one everyone is talking about. Duke has said he is making his decision this week (that could mean signing here, that could mean deciding to wait until Feb 8 to officially sign with another suitor). He’s an impact player, plain and simple. At no point in 2021 did we field a healthy Duke, Shaq and Moore together, that would be some firepower. I will say this though. With Evans and Moore under contract I could see O’Day getting outbid on Duke and waiting to find a more economical option in free agency. There is a ton of "name" receivers hitting the market and there's not enough money for them all to get huge contracts (Ellingson, Walker, Bailey, Lawler, Wieneke, Cunningham, Posey, Rogers, Collins) Not saying I like that but it’s a possibility.

Michah Johnson – Dude is still a beast in the middle of the DL and makes everyone around him better. Issue will be money. We didn’t want to pay him headed into 2020 so he signed with BC (remember that?). They mysteriously dumped him in favour of an all rookie D-line (how’d that work out?) and he came back here on a very reasonable contract for 2021. He likely deserves a bump in pay. Do we keep him? Or does BC try and swoop him again?

Other needs:

If I started with any other position other than OT you’d ridicule me right? Obvious to everyone that its our #1 need. Rykar Matthews tops the list of people we should be calling. Also in there would be Joel Figueroa and Justin Renfrow. Based on last season they could announce they are bringing Gene Makowsky out of retirement and I’d consider that an improvement.

Linebackers is another area of need. Other than Teitz we don’t have anything set. We need a middle linebacker where there are in house options like Larry Dean and Deon Lacey. Or free agent options like Darnell Sankey, Micah Awe, Justin Tuggle and Jovon Santo-Knox. Jameer Thurman would be a hell of an acquisition but I don’t see him leaving Calgary. We also need a cover LB and there are a number of good options there including our old friend Derrick Moncrief, Anthony Cioffi and Patrick Levels.

Should we not retain Micah, we will need help at DT. Some interesting options there are Sheldon Richardson (a very talented dude who gets overshadowed by Jefferson and Jeffcoat in Winnipeg), Dylan Wynn, David Menard and a more value option like Drake Nevis.

Not a pressing need but there will be some talented DBs hitting the market like DeShaun Amos, Jonathan Mincy, Jamar Wall, Frankie Williams and Winston Rose. Would not be opposed to adding one of them at the right price.

I also have a list of people I hope we don’t look at. It’s Andrew Harris and Brandon Banks. 

For Harris is goes far beyond the general Rider hatred of the guy. Look, we’ve managed to stomach the likes of Dwight Anderson and Diamon Ferri before, so I’m sure we’d survive after some initial griping if that was it. But Harris is on the downslope of a very impressive career. If he wasn’t, Winnipeg would have re-signed him by now. He’ll be 35 come the season and despite a full year off, only managed to be healthy enough to play in 7 games last season. If we really want an old RB we should just keep Powell. He's at least durable... and infinitely more likeable.

Banks is a similar story. He can still be an impact player in spurts but at 34 he’s clearly slowing down and his durability is in question. Not worth the money he’ll be looking for. Also, with Kyran Moore in tow, I don’t think another small quick receiver adds much to our offense. What we need is a possession receiver who can win the deep ball.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Re-signings

Like many GMs, Jeremy O’Day has been slowly chipping away at his list of pending free agents. Today we’ll take a look at what he’s done so far as well as look at other Rider news including NFL tryouts. 

NFL Watch

We know that Brayden Lenius signed with the Falcons. Happy to see him get an opportunity. He put in a lot of work to improve for 2021 and it paid off in his performance. The odds are always staked against a receiver making the NFL (not due to talent but since they don’t play special teams they need to outright win a roster spot) so we may see him again in the fall. Two other notable Rider notes in regards to the NFL. Both Jonathan Woodard and Anthony Lanier had a tryout with the NY Giants. Now one tryout likely means that odds are low they end up with a contract but certainly worth keeping an eye on. Our D-line recruiting class for 2021 was outstanding and keeping as may of those guys as possible is important. 

Re-signings So Far

AC Leonard – This was a big one. Leonard got paid with a contract reportedly in the $200k range but he deserves it. Since 2016 he has 36 sacks including 20 in the last 2 seasons. If you want some context on how good that is its more than Willie Jefferson (19), Ja’Gared Davis (19) and Jackson Jeffcoat (14). He has increased his sack total in each of his past 4 season. He’s an impact player. He’s also one of the few whacky Chris Jones experiments that panned out. Remember that Leonard was a TE until he showed up here in 2016. 

Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans – Everyone is eager to see Duke re-sign and I would certainly love that but let’s not underscore the importance of keeping these 2. Moore was leading the CFL in catches prior to his season ending injury. He was also among the leaders in missed tackles. I’m a big Kyran Moore fan and think he can be a key part of the offense. The big question with Shaq is do we get 2019 or 2021 Shaq? No guarantees but I’m willing to bet 2021 Shaq was more hampered by injury than anyone ever let on. I think he rushed back and it affected him. The thing about both these guys is that Fajardo trusts them. Keeping continuity with offensive guys who have a connection is important. 

Terran Vaughn – He was projected to start at offensive tackle but a shoulder injury ended his year in training camp. That hugely impacted our offense in 2021. A healthy Vaughn is definitely a boost to our biggest area of weakness.

Mike Edem – Edem is a reliable Canadian playmaker but I don’t think we realized his true impact until he missed the last half of the season with a wrist injury. Defense still did good and Purifoy can certainly play any position in the secondary but it just seemed to be more solid with Edem in there. Nice to have him back.

Charbel Dabire – I may be one of his biggest boosters. Have liked him since his rookie season. He’s a solid Canadian DT

Jamal Morrow – I hope with the benefit of hindsight, our coaching staff realize how wrong it was that Morrow sat on the practice roster for the first 3 games and then was inexplicably benched for 3 more games mid-season. He was far an away our best returner and made plays when given the chance. He will have a legit chance to compete for starting RB in 2022 and I’m all for it. 

Justin McInnis – Mentioned in a previous post that while Schaefer-Baker is our best Cdn WR we need depth behind him. The departure of Lenius only reinforces that need. We still have yet to see the talent that made McInnis a first round pick in 2019. Injuries were a factor in 2021. Be nice to see him do like Lenius and take a big step forward.

Jake Harty – This is the one I’m most meh on. Harty is a valued contributor on special teams and technically helps with Cdn depth at receiver but when you consider that pretty much every Cdn receiver on our roster got reps ahead of him and when he did get reps he had some notable drops I think we are at a point where his special teams play is the only reason he is here, not his offensive play. Always good to retain those “grit” Canadians that contribute on special teams but I’m neither excited nor mad about this one… as I said, just meh.

We also added a couple CFL veteran free agents in OL Na’ty Rogers and FB James Tuck. Rogers has CFL experience playing tackle so I’m very happy we are bringing players to have an actual competition there. But I’m tempering my expectations. Rogers comes from Ottawa… remember that the RedBlacks OL was one of the few that made ours look good by comparison. Willing to give him a chance but let’s not assume we’ve solved the OT issue yet.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Catching Up

With the new year upon us, GMs are hard at work trying to whittle down their list of pending free agents, which is most team’s cases represent like 90% of their team. Most of the top end talent (or those with a competent agent) will wait until free agency to see their true value. But O’Day has managed to re-sign a few. So today we will take a look at the re-signings so far as well as what’s remaining on the potential free agent list.

Most of the re-signings so far have lacked the wow factor but quietly O’Day has been working to keep our Canadian depth in place. Most people probably couldn’t name our longsnapper but that’s because he does his job so well we take Jorgen Hus for granted. Kienan LaFrance is also not a top end guy but fills an important role on teams with the ability to step in a contribute on offense when needed. I was among our O-line’s biggest critics but I think maintaining some continuity there is important. Logan Ferland had a pretty solid year for someone who had never started a game outside of junior. I see him as someone with a very high ceiling as he gets more pro experience. Evan Johnson was somewhat of a disappointment in 2021… not bad, just average. But at just 27 its reasonable to expect him bounce back. Him and Ferland help keep the core of our OL young.

Had you told me a year ago that in a press release featuring the re-signing of Marshall and Teitz that Teitz would be one I was excited for I would have laughed at you. Keeping Teitz was important as he became a strong Canadian starter. You know my thoughts on Marshall, so I have very mixed feelings on that re-signing. I would have been fine letting him walk. But then you look at how he played in the playoffs and see a guy who still has the top end talent… even if we are starting to see it way less consistently. I hope we bring in some CBs to push him because if he’s starting in 2022 I want it to be because he earned the spot again, not just because of his past reputation. I’m genuinely puzzled why either us or Paul McRoberts would be interested in an extension. His role on our team has pretty much been absolute last resort but only if the only remaining option is fielding a scarecrow at WR. I like the guy and want to see him succeed but each season seems to be like Ground Hog's day for him.

So what’s left…

Obviously the big names we need back include: AC, Micah, Duke, Lauther, Purfoy and one of Dean or Lacey at MLB. There are also a few less heralded names on my list:

Charbel Dabire – You all know I’m a big fan of his and keeping a young Canadian DT certainly helps us.

Mike Edem – We definitely missed him at safety after he broke his wrist. I know he’s starting to get up there in age but he’s a versatile guy and as much as Purfioy can play anywhere, our secondary plays best with Edem at safety and Purifoy at HB.

Elie Bouka – Durability is his main issue. But when healthy he can play multiple spots in the secondary as a Canadian and make plays like he did in the playoffs.

Shaq Evans/Kyran Moore – Obviously a down year for Shaq but I really think the injury played a bigger role than he let on. A fully healthy Shaq is still a force to be reckoned with. As for Moore he quietly led the CFL in receptions prior to his injury. I know stupid swing passes inflated those numbers a bit but I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves for how good he is yet. If we want to rediscover our offense we need to keep our offensive playmakers, particularly the ones the QB actually trusts.

Justin McInnis/Mitch Picton – Lenius is off to the NFL and while Schaefer-Baker is obviously the future, we are going to need depth. Picton is a reliable token Canadian receiver you can line up on the wide-side. McInnis I think has a higher ceiling but hasn’t stayed on the field long enough to show it.

A dark horse name is Takoby Cofield. He opted to sit out 2021. If I am O’Day I would literally be begging him on my hands and knees to return.

Here’s a few names I would be perfectly ok with letting walk:

Brett Boyko – Other than his passport is there anything of value with him? The only scenario I want him on our team is as the 6th OL. He’s a serviceable injury replacement but the only people who want him starting again are opposing D-lineman.

William Powell – This is not a knock at Powell. Great guy. Has been a solid runner for us (those rare times we actually committed to the run). He will be 34 come next season. At some point we need to go younger there. You’ve seen that Morrow can be a playmaker. And if you can’t recruit an RB in the CFL, you don’t deserve to be a GM.

Isaac Harker – Another player I like as a person but he’s simply not progressing as a QB after 2 full years in the league. Might as well given some other QB prospects the chance as they at least may have a higher ceiling. I think we’ve seen Harker’s ceiling and only Weston Dressler would we able to stand under it.

Ed Gainey – A bit torn on this one. He exceeded my expectations in 2021 and played really good. But you always want to be 1 year too early in letting a guy go than 1 year too late. We would be solid with Purifoy and Webb and HB. So unless he’s coming dirt cheap, I sadly don’t see Gainey as a priority. If this is indeed the end of his Rider career, mad respect for all he accomplished here.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Surprises

Welcome to the new year. Normally I would express a hope that 2022 be a great year for all, but given how the last 2 years have went I think we would all just settle for 2022 being not a craptastic.

Before I turn my attention to the 2022 CFL season (free agency, drafting, etc...) I want to take on more look back at 2021. I want to take a look at players that surprised me by their performance in 2021, both good and bad. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a few notable ones that I thought worthy of mention.

Also note that this is a list of surprises. So a guy like Brett Boyko does not make the unpleasant surprise list because while it was certainly unpleasant, it was not a surprise, everyone but the Riders seemed to see it coming.

Pleasant Surprises

Micah Johnson – This may have been O’Day best move of the offseason and no one is talking about it or giving Micah near the hype he deserves. We got Micah cheap, mainly because most teams assumed his best days were behind him. Turns out, he’s still Micah. He was an absolute force along the D-line and I don’t think any other player on that line puts up near the stats they did without him there. I was not in the “Micah is done” camp but his performance certainly exceeded my expectations and let everyone know he’s still one of the best D-tackles in this league. And for all the talk of his durability, he only missed one game due to injury this season. I just hope the pay increase he deserves doesn’t put him out of our price range.

Ed Gainey – I was vocal about my belief that Gainey was done after 2019. I did not expect him back in 2021 and was pretty ok with that. So when he eventually re-signed I was very “meh” on it. But he ended up being a very reliable player in 2021. He’s certainly no longer peak Gainey from say 2018 but he once again proved he can still be a reliable cover guy playing one of the most difficult spots in the secondary.

AC Leonard – What people will remember about 2021 Leonard was his 3 game suspension. What people don’t seem to notice is that he put up 11 sacks. That’s impressive in a normal season. Leonard did it in 11 games! I long wondered whether he was good or just the product of playing alongside elite pass rushers like Jefferson and Hughes… turns out he’s legit good despite not being considered among the best pass rushers in the league for some reason.

Deon Lacey – I won’t lie, I was incredibly scared for our linebackers. It would have bad enough going from the trio of Judge/Elimimian/Moncrief to Larry Dean and 2 people with no starting experience. But then Dean was lost for the season due to an achilles injury. Without much fanfare, Lacey stepped in and was a major stabilizing force. The Riders were #2 against the run and Lacey just made plays.

Micah Teitz – Teitz was one of those 2 people with no starting experience I mentioned in the last paragraph. He had one career start coming into 2021 and through the first few games he looked like a guy with one previous start. But he just steadily kept improving over the year and became a key Canadian starter. Never expected him to be more than a career special teamer when we drafted him in 2018. And if that’s how he can play in his first year as a starter, I fully expect his ceiling is higher than we have seen yet.

Unpleasant Surprises

Cody Fajardo – I don’t want to dwell on this one but do feel I need to address it. Based on 2019, I think we all expected more out of Cody this season. Here’s the thing though, he had a good OL in 2019 and in 2021 had 5 guys who could only have been less effective if they had physically carried opposing pass rushers and deposited them on Fajardo. Give him a good line again and you’d be amazed how quickly he “improves”. I’ve heard others say this and I agree… I don’t think Fajardo is as good as we saw in 2019, or as bad as we saw in 2021. He’s somewhere in the middle and that still makes him a bona fide starting QB that I have faith in.

Evan Johnson – He wasn’t bad, just ok. But we fully expected a top tier lineman when we signed so “ok” was a disappointment. Obviously playing alongside a mildly competent tackle would help his performance, but his individual play was underwhelming. I’m fine with bringing him back, he is only 27 after all, but he needs to show more than he did in 2021.

Gary Johnson – This has nothing to do with talent or on field play. I was a big hyper of Johnson coming into the season. I thought he had a legit chance to start. And when he was on the field, he looked damn good. He led the team with 10 special teams tackles and looked good when he got reps on defense. Problem was he could not stay on the field. Here’s how his season went: played 2 games, missed 1, played 1, missed 6, played 2, missed 1, played 1, missed 2. Getting 10 special teams tackles in just 6 games certainly catches my eye but never being able to play in more than 2 consecutive games is an issue.