Football is back.
Training camps opened across the league yesterday. And while this started on a somber note as the Rider Prophet curse led to the unfortunate release of La’Akea Kaho’Ohanohano-Davis following rookie camp, I am still pumped for the new season to arrive.
Last season was so depressing you couldn’t even drink it pretty. While I am under no illusions that the new look Riders are suddenly Grey Cup favourites, we at least have hope at this point that things may be better. The reality that history has shown that rises in hope in the Riders tend to be followed by it being taken away in crushingly tragic fashion… but that is future Rider Prophet’s problem. Hope springs eternal for now.
Let’s take a look at the key things I’ll be watching in training camp.
1 – Offensive Line
I yearn for the day where I don’t have to talk about the O-line. But until they prove even the slightest amount of competence they will remain the number 1 story in Saskatchewan. We have a new centre, we are looking to find two new tackles and even the spots at guard are not guaranteed to the incumbents, nor should they be. The Day 1 line up was Hawkins-Blake-Godber-Johnson-Lofton. That may change as things progress but its where we are starting. If we can even have just one offensive tackle who doesn't provide the protection level of an imaginary condom I think we can survive. Two would be ideal but expectations have hit pretty much rock bottom, so any good news is progress. I think Harris’ ability to read a defense and have an actual pocket presence will help the O-line but they need to block or we are in for another long season.
2 – Receiver
Training camp needs to establish who is the guy. Shaq, Duke and Moore are gone and Schaefer-Baker is a couple months away. So we enter the season without knowing who the #1 go to receiver will be for Trevor Harris. We have potential but no sure things. Wieneke has talent but has always played beside Geno Lewis. Can he step up now that he’s out of that shadow? Derel Walker is a big name but over 3 years removed from being a top end receiver. Was the tail end of last season the start of an upswing for him or was it just a temporary blip on his overall downward curve? With a full CFL training camp will we see Lenius get back to 2021 form? Is Bane the impact player we envisioned when we signed him? Does a new recruit outshine these presumed incumbents? A ton of questions surround this group.
3 - QB
I expected us to enter 2023 with questions at starting QB. Fortunately we had Harris fall into our lap and secure that. So we are back to looking at the competition for the fan favourite position in Riderville: Back-up QB. It’s a make or break year for Mason Fine. If he can show he continues to progress the spot should be his to lose. But if he has plateaued it opens it up for like Lewis, Patterson and Dolegala. Let’s just hope for his sake Dolegala doesn’t blow this opportunity again because he still doesn’t know what Uber is.
4 - Secondary
Marshall will be manning his normal corner. Milligan will be a stud at halfback. Clark will be starting (likely at CB but he can play half as well). With longtime steady presence Mike Edem gone, Jayden Dalke steps in a safety. He will have Ford, Lokombo and Beaulieu pushing him to hold the spot. In addition to a new safety, one DB spot remains up for grabs. Early last year I would have penciled in Henderson but he saw his play slip and will need to earn that spot back. Be interesting to see who among the new recruits steps up.
This isn’t a position specific thing but the overall change in the roster has been massive. The previous veteran leaders (Fajardo, Clark, Evans, Moore, Edem, Leonard, Hughes, Sankey) are gone. The void will need to be filled by additions like Harris, Wieneke, Micah, Blake as well as previous “young guys” stepping into leadership roles like Lanier, Teitz, Lenius, Milligan, Morrow. With so many new pieces it will be interesting to see how they come together and whether the right kind of leadership from within the team will emerge.
Normally I would make predictions about veterans who may be in trouble or potential for surprise cuts. Things is, this year anyone who I normally would have pegged was jettisoned in the offseason. The vets who were retained were retained for a reason. I’d like to think that Evan Johnson is at risk of losing his job to a Blake or Fry because he has been underwhelming in his time here but I don’t see that happening. Maybe LaFrance? Outside shot at Marshall? But generally I don’t expect surprises in terms of veterans come cutdown day.
One final piece of business, with La’Akea Kaho’Ohanohano-Davis gone, I need to select the Official Rider Prophet endorsement for 2023. It’s historically this kiss of death to any player I bestow the honour on so apologies to Bryan Cox (selected for obvious reasons). It seems you are doomed to join the ranks of Greg Milhouse, Eltoro Freeman, Boo Robinson, Gabe Nyenhuis, Ikenna Ike and Jose Valdez in Rider lore.