Riderville has reasons for optimism says panel

Rider Fan Forum by Gregory Beatty

The Riders get a first week bye so don’t open the CFL season until June 30 when they host the Toronto Argonauts. They play Edmonton and B.C. three times in 2016, and everyone else twice home-and-home. To get fans pumped we’re joined by our panel: Earl Camembert, John’s Chick, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico. So let’s get started.

Ottawa Redblacks went from a 2W-16L expansion team in 2014 to Grey Cup finalist in 2015. That’s a lot to ask of a team, especially in the CFL West, but is a turnaround season possible for the Riders?

Earl Camembert:  I think we need to temper expectations here. I watched the first exhibition game at home because I didn’t have a clue who any of the players were and thought TSN would ID them. Rod Black did the game though so my plan went in the crapper. The point being that I didn’t know anyone who dressed, and when you have turnover like that you’re going to have some pain. Meanwhile, the Riders better hope Durant stays healthy because the back-up QBs have done nothing. A turnaround season is possible, but 9W-9L will be a success.

John’s Chick: A turnaround is definitely possible, but it’s going to take time. Chris Jones has a plan, and while the first few games may be rough as they come together as a team, I’m confident they’ll steadily improve all season. I think they’ll make the play-offs. And as long as they do that anything can happen!

Cal Corduroy: It is, but I’m not thinking Grey Cup. Too many good teams, and waaaaaaay too much rust on the Rider machine in the pre-season. Plus, we have no backup QB.

Ron Mexico: The West is strong enough that I don’t think an Ottawa-style turnaround is realistic. However, a third place finish and eight or nine wins wouldn’t surprise me.

Stack up on defence and institute a low-risk, ball control offence seems to be Jones’ formula. What areas of the team are you expecting big things from? What areas remain concerns?

EC: I think the DBs will get more interceptions than the last three years combined. The linebacking should be improved, but Jeff Knox Jr. hasn’t played since the first day of camp. I wonder about the D-line. When the Riders won the Grey Cup in 2013, they could rotate about six linemen without losing anything. I’m not sure about the running game either. It sounds like they want to start Curtis (Remington) Steele, but he didn’t exactly light it up in the preseason. Depth is another concern, but that’s going to happen when you blow things up and start over — which they needed to do.

JC: I’m expecting a lot of improvement by our DBs and receivers. I’ll miss Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, but some of our new receivers will be taller targets for Darian, and I expect Naaman Roosevelt to have a big year. My main areas of concern are run defence (which should improve as the D-line and linebackers play together more) and back-up QB. I did see some good things from B.J. Coleman at training camp, so hopefully he continues to develop.  However, we all need to keep our fingers crossed for Darian’s health!

CC: Jones and [talent scout] Mike Murphy have an incredible “Moneyball” approach, so I’m expecting progress in ALL areas. However, we have no backup QB.

RM: You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to play defence, so a new defence can come together quicker than a new offence. We have a true middle linebacker in Greg Jones, and two good defensive ends in Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti. So I expect big things. Areas of concern are: Durant’s health; backup QB; receiver, running back and O-line depth… basically the entire offence.

How would you stack up teams in a CFL power-ranking?

EC: Edmonton will win the West. They get the nod because they’re defending champs, but they have question marks given they lost all their coaches and some free agents. Howdy Doody Dickenson replaces John Hufnagel as the Stamps’ coach, and it’s always tough to follow a successful coach who’s been there forever. BC couldn’t make it work with Mike Benevides and Jeff Tedford, and Wally Buono had to come back on the field. But outside of their A&W Root Bear road uniforms they’ve got nothing. Winnipeg stinks because they just do. Mike O’Shea will be gone by Labour Day. So I see the Riders finishing third.

In the East, there’s no way Smiling Henry duplicates last year’s fluke and Ottawa plummets behind Hamilton. Toronto has Ricky Ray at QB. He’s getting so old they need to check his cholesterol at half-time. Montreal seems lost with Jim Popp coaching them, and assistants who don’t want to be there.

JC: My power rankings are: Edmonton: they are defending champs, and have a chip on their shoulder after being raided by Saskatchewan, although I don’t expect them to be as good as last year. Calgary: The Stamps were neck-and-neck with Edmonton last season and I expect them to continue battling for top spot in the West. Hamilton: Austin will have them at or near the top of the East. Ottawa: They surprised me last year, but I think they’ll continue to be competitive. Saskatchewan: Big improvement over last year. Toronto: I think they’ll be like Saskatchewan, battling for a playoff spot. Winnipeg: Will be improved, but I still see them struggling against the West’s better teams. BC: I don’t think they’ve done enough to improve. Montreal: Some questionable moves will make it hard for the Alouettes to be competitive.

CC: No idea thanks to TSN not finding room on one of their five channels to cover CFL exhibition football. But here goes: Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Edmonton, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, BC, Montreal. Oh, and thank God we don’t have to look at Hufnagel. Instead, we have to look at Wally. And the Riders have no backup QB.

RM: Hamilton was looking great last year before QB Zach Collaros got hurt. Ottawa should be good again. Calgary would be my pick in the West. Overall: Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, BC, Toronto, Montreal.

Are you happy with how the CFL is being managed?

EC: It wasn’t too long ago that the CFL was riding high, and TSN coughed up a bunch of money for TV rights. Now, I get the feeling it’s slipping off the radar. On a positive note, the new stadiums coming on-line should make a big difference. I was in Toronto recently and as the cabbie whizzed by BMO Field at 145 k.p.h. I thought it looked good. That will help the Argos.

JC: The CFL needs to be much more visible. The Riders were often in the news with all the changes, but it’s been much too quiet at the league level. There are supposed to be some improvements to the website, app, stats, for this season, so hopefully that will happen. I think they need to invest in their social media presence to keep young people interested.

CC: Nope, CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge is circling the bowl. The average age of the Rider fan base is 54, and I think they have the youngest in the league. Better start listening more, and have less of an “I got this” attitude. Mind you, the same goes for the Riders.

RM: Not really. The offseason appears to have broadened the coaches’ ability to challenge on-field calls. The preseason games have been flagfests, so God knows which crappy calls you should challenge. The new CFL logo is alright. The Toronto stadium move should be positive. They should forbid TSN from using Rod Black and Matt Dunigan. The CFL could use a good monthly magazine like the countless NFL mags on the rack. A video game would also be good. Both would help with player identification, which is not great.