New faces, same result: the Riders limp towards labour day


Sports | by Gregory Beatty

In the kick-off edition of Rider Fan Forum in late June, Earl Camembert, John’s Chick, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico predicted that with all the coaching and roster changes, the Riders would struggle out of the gate, but gel into a competitive team as the season wore on. Well, we’re at the mid-point of the CFL season and the Riders sit last in the CFL with a 1W-8L record heading into the Labour Day/Banjo Bowl home-and-home with the 5W-4L Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They’ve been competitive in some games and blown-out in others, and overall have been outscored 319-170. What do our armchair pundits have to say for themselves?

Welcome back, panel. Do you stand by your forecasts?

RON MEXICO: No, unfortunately I can’t. There really isn’t any part of the team that’s competitive. I turned off the Hamilton game and watched The Tragically Hip concert live (I’d planned on PVRing it). I’m surprised that the Midas touch of Chris Jones hasn’t produced a little more a little quicker. Mind you, Saskatchewan is the only place where Don Matthews was mediocre.

CAL CORDUROY: Nope: 3W-15L looks pretty good at this point.

JOHN’S CHICK: It’s taking a lot longer than I thought it would. Our depth (or lack thereof) was even worse than I thought. Mind you, I didn’t think we’d lose most of our offensive line and our starting running back to injury for so many games. I know injuries aren’t an excuse, but when you are rebuilding and don’t have much depth, injuries are even more of a problem. Sigh!

EARL CAMEMBERT: I stand by my prediction, but I didn’t think they would struggle as much as they have. I expected the Riders would’ve found more player stability coming out of training camp, but the opposite has occurred, which has led, in my opinion, to a lot of the problems they’ve encountered. Twelve new starters on defence? That’s a lot. And during every game this year, I’ve found myself saying “Who?” at least once when a player’s name is mentioned by an announcer. Anyway, I think they’ll improve in the second half, provided they quit with the player carousel.

Any bright lights on the team and management you’d like to single out for praise?

RM: The placekicker, Tyler Crapigna, has been quite good. Namaan Roosevelt is a good receiver. That’s about it right now. I thought Craig Reynolds did a good job handling the cheating with the roster issue. I don’t fault him at all. He hired the top coach in the league at the time, without question in my mind, as well as a very credible personnel guy in John Murphy.

CC: Nate Roosevelt has been okay. Jonathon Newsome showed early promise on the defensive line. Tyler Crapigna has been okay. Honourable mention to the trainers, too, who have been busy with the revolving door of wounded offensive linemen.

JC: The bright lights include DB Justin Cox (although he made a bad decision when he ended a great blitz with a roughing the passer penalty last game) and our Canadian kicker, Crapigna. I was also very impressed with Darian’s determination in the Edmonton game. And I was impressed with Mitchell Gale and Brandon Bridge as back-up QBs. Thank goodness they show promise, because the many other backups we had sure didn’t! On the management side, I was impressed with how Craig Reynolds handled the fines-related press conference.

EC: Namaan Roosevelt is one of the best receivers in the league. Good thing Corey Chamblin played Jamaal Richardson instead of him last year. Other than that, I really don’t see many bright lights. Given the player turnover every game, though, that’s not surprising.  

What about criticism?

RM: Where do you start? The team is terrible and getting worse. Jones’ defence is nothing like the style we’re used to watching. There is no running game. The secondary can’t cover anybody.

CC: Not enough space in the column to cover it. We haven’t outplayed/outcoached anyone. Our receivers (Roosevelt notwithstanding), running game, and defence have stunk. I have a higher kick return average than the Riders.

JC: They recently released the one defensive player I thought needed to go (DB Major Culbert). On offence, they don’t seem to have a lot of threats other than Roosevelt — although he’s fantastic at either making the play or drawing a pass interference call. And they’re so one-dimensional without a running game. I wasn’t impressed with how Chris Jones handled the fines-related press conference. If he was only head coach, I think he could’ve got away with saying he would only answer game-related questions. But because he’s also the GM, I think he should’ve faced the media better and not left that entirely to Craig Reynolds. I’ve also been unimpressed with Jones’ defensive play-calling, which cost us the first Edmonton game (maybe the turning point of the season), but did improve in the recent Edmonton game. Is Richie Hall available?

EC: At a certain point, I think the personnel people have to stop bringing in new guys every game. As I see it, by the middle of the season you have to go with what you’ve got and see what happens. Otherwise, what you end up with is the Riders playing an exhibition game while the opponent is in mid-season form. See: Hamilton 53-Sask 7.

Based on your pre-season predictions, B.C., Winnipeg and Toronto have probably exceeded expectations, while Edmonton and Hamilton have underperformed. Who do you see coming on strong in the second half in both divisions?

RM: I think Hamilton will surge in the second half with Zach Collaros at QB. I see Calgary and Hamilton meeting in the Grey Cup. I can’t stand Wally Buono, but you have to give the old goat credit — B.C. appears to clearly be the second-best team in the West. Ottawa needs to get QB Trevor Harris back on the field.

CC: Hamilton will cake-walk in the East. The West is still Calgary’s, as I don’t see anyone else putting up a material challenge to them. Edmonton isn’t that good. B.C. is Wally, Winnipeg is Winnipeg, and the Riders have shown nothing to suggest they’re anything but basement dwellers. Another year bites the dust… sigh.

JC: I think we’ll see B.C. and Calgary at the top of the West, and Hamilton come on stronger in the East. Even when Kent Austin’s teams start off slow, he seems to be the master at getting them to improve later in the season and peak for the playoffs. As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Kent and Calgary coach Dave Dickenson on the mic’d up game: kudos to the CFL (and TSN) for pulling that off, and for the recent change to eliminate the “freebie” coach’s challenge. Now, if they could just decide what pass interference is and change the ridiculous illegal contact on an eligible receiver rules, maybe the game we all love could be saved!

EC: I’d have thought B.C. would’ve crapped their drawers, but I’m prepared to concede that Wally knows what he’s doing with players. They seem to have found a QB in Jonathan “Peter” Jennings who can get it done, and they should be strong. I don’t think Edmonton is that good. They should’ve lost to the Riders on July 8, and almost blew a 22-point lead last game — both at home. Hamilton will start to warm to their task in the second half as long as Zach Collaros stays healthy. Clearly they’re better when he’s in there. I thought Ottawa would be better and maybe they will be with Trevor Harris healthy. Healthy quarterbacking seems to be the key to success. The teams with healthy QBs should be strong in the second half.