Pundits predict solid season for Riders if O-line performs well

RIDER FAN FORUM by Gregory Beatty

It was an eventful off-season in Riderville. We made a move at Prairie Dog too, inking long-time CFL fan John’s Chick to join Earl Camembert, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico on our panel.

The Riders open the season against Winnipeg June 27. Of all the coaching and personnel changes in the off-season, which ones get thumbs up?

RM: I’ll give thumbs up to new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine, not because I think he’s the second coming, but because George Cortez had obviously “lost the locker room” and we might’ve had a revolution had he come back. Cortez is a classic example of the defiant football coach who was going to do it his way regardless of whether things were working. I heard he forbade Durant from calling audibles.

JC: Thumbs up to replacing Coach Cortez. Our offense was way too conventional last year.  My 8-year-old son could predict the plays!

EC: Showing Ritchie Hall the door gets a thumbs up from me. The fact the Riders blew two fourth-quarter leads in the exhibition games might have me changing my tune, but not yet. Jacques Chapdelaine is from the Wally Buono school of knobs so the jury is out on him. Also, I like getting Kevin Glenn. And cutting Hugh O’Neill means I don’t have to look at that stupid beard all year.

CC: Finally, a proven middle linebacker in Shea Emry (who, I believe, Brendon LaBatte has had an arm-around-the-shoulder chat with after Emry gave him a shot to the balls in 2012). Now we have chippiness on both sides of the ball. Also looks like Taman added some height to the receivers… we’ll see if they can catch and/or stay healthy. Glad that jerk Cortez and nice-guy-but-brutal Ritchie Hall were sent packing… although let’s see what the French guy can do for the offence. Nic Demski looks good. And thank God they “punted” Hugh O’Neill.

Thumbs down?

RM: I won’t be critical yet of any of the new assistants. I always thought receivers’ coach Jeremaine Copeland was a loudmouth hotdog when he was a player. I’m a little disappointed to see defensive back coach Barron Miles go. I’ve had some exposure to him, and think he’s a level-headed guy.

JC: Thumbs down to trading Ricky Foley. I waited until after he re-signed to get my new Foley jersey, then a few weeks later they trade him away! I know we needed to give up a quality Canadian to get Shea Emry. But Foley’s hot!

EC: The Riders’ release of Alex Pierzchalski gets a thumbs down. I thought he was one of their better receivers in the pre-season, and having a big guy to throw to is invaluable. I’m beginning to think Chris Getzlaf is on his last legs, as evidenced by his constant boarding of passes. He had a poor season last year too. Pierzchalski seemed like a good option there.

CC: Letting Dominic Picard go… and hiring Chapdelaine as offensive coordinator (I repeat… let’s see what he can do for the offence).

The Riders play four of their first five games at home. How do you see them stacking up against the West in 2015?

RM: I rank them slightly behind Calgary, and slightly ahead of Edmonton. If our O-line performs, we can challenge Calgary. If our O-line (especially the tackles) play like they did in Fort McMurray, then Edmonton can challenge us.

JC: I see (through my green-coloured glasses) the Riders finishing first or second and hosting a home playoff game. Everyone seems to be annointing Calgary as the top team, but I think they should hold off until they actually play a regular season game! The Evil Empire Eskimos under Crazy Chris Jones should be decent too, as long as they don’t kill each other in practice. B.C. and Winnipeg should be at the bottom, but one will likely cross over to the East play-offs.

EC:  Losing two Canadian starters on the O-line is tough. I don’t see a lot of depth there. If the line hangs in I think the Riders will challenge for first. If not, then Durant runs for his life and it’s trouble. Calgary lost some quality people too, like Brett Jones, but Hufnagel just seems to put on more sunscreen and replace them. Winnipeg is still a dump and loserville. B.C. has peanut brittle Lulay and a big drop off looming. Edmonton’s defence will keep them in games, but I don’t like the offence much.

CC: They’re as good as anyone provided they can keep their running game going and their O-line holds up… even as good as the Stampeders (although SMALL kudos to them for dumping tubby Nik Lewis). B.C. at the bottom once Lulu gets his shoulder wrecked again. Winnipeg and Edmonton fighting for the middle… not that anyone cares.

The East started horribly in 2014, but improved as the season progressed. Who do you see contending in 2015?

RM: The only team I see being decent is Hamilton. I don’t see anybody else being over .500.

JC: I think Hamilton will be tops, but Austin will still look angry. The rest of the East looks weak. I thought Montreal would be improved this year, but QB Jonathan Crompton struggled in the pre-season. I can’t see Toronto winning many games with Ricky Ray injured. Not sure that Ottawa has improved any over last year, so I don’t think Hank will be smiling much.

EC: Kent Austin, who ranks up there with Jon Cornish as the biggest dink going, seems to get production out of his players. They’ll finish first. Ray is too old, and Toronto has to play a game in Ft. McMurray. Ottawa sucks. Montreal is an unknown in my books, but they lost receiver Duron Carter and that will hurt their offence.

CC: Who cares? (Hamilton, then those other teams…)

The CFL made several off-season rule changes to inject more excitement after a lackluster 2014 season. Any thoughts?

RM: I hate the changes, with the exception of the extra point rule — which is gimmicky, but I can tolerate it. I don’t know why the CFL thinks the only way to entertain fans is to have 55-50 track meets. I hated the CFL in the late ’80s/early ’90s when it was an aerial league. Of all the things they could’ve done with the punting rules, prohibiting the interior of the coverage team from going downfield before the ball is kicked is the dumbest, when they already have to give the returner five yards.

JC: Based on the pre-season, the changes should be fantastic… for those who want even more penalties and close-ups of the refs than last year! Ugh! The longer point-after kick and shorter two-point convert may make the decision to go for two more interesting, but otherwise I don’t see the changes improving the pace or excitement of games.

EC: The convert rule is stupid.  So is keeping the interior linemen on the line until the ball is punted. The worst, though, is the pass interference rule. You can’t breathe on a guy after five yards, and all that leads to is letting boob CFL officials have more opportunities to call penalties. That first pre-season game might’ve been the worst I’ve ever witnessed — 58 penalties? I hate like hell to think a game is going to come down to some chintzy PI call.

CC: I was concerned that because of a lack of penalties over the last few seasons the CFL might reduce the number of officials as a cost-cutting measure. So I’m thrilled there will be more penalties. The 32-yard convert makes it slightly more interesting.