The two-a-days are done at training camp. Now the hard part starts. After 12 days of mind-numbingly repetitive drills and endless scrimmaging against each other, players get to test their mettle against another CFL team in an exhibition game.

When I was a kid and a fan of the Lancaster-Reed-era Riders, CFL teams played four exhibition games and a 16-game regular season (in the West, while the four-team CFL East played a 14-game schedule). With four games, rookies and other hopefuls who needed to impress to have a shot at making the team had more of a chance to do so.

But in the ’80s the CFL cut two exhibitions games from the schedule and moved to an 18-game regular season. With starters needing to play a good chunk of the second exhibition game (for the Riders, that’s June 22 in B.C.) to get ready for the start of the regular season, that doesn’t give players who are challenging for a roster spot much of a chance to shine.  For many, tonight might be the only taste of game action they get before “The Turk” visits.

Earlier this week, I caught one workout at Mosaic Stadium. Not enough to form any real impressions, obviously. But things I’ve gleaned about training camp from coverage by other media outlets include: new special teams coach Craig Dickenson has been working hard to improve the Riders’ performance in this critical area. I’m glad to hear that. Because let’s face it, last year was a disaster. Whether the Riders will improve massively remains to be seen, as they’ve never been special teams demons. But if Dickenson can achieve even a modest improvement it will be a big boost for the team in what promises to be a tough CFL West.

Import wide receiver Terrence Nunn has also reportedly been impressive. And there’s some pretty heavy competition going on for spots on the Riders’ O-line between veterans and younger players who are looking to take the next step in their careers by moving from back-up to starter.

As I observed in my City Events listing on this game, there’s been a lot of changes in Riderville this off-season. But Montreal figures to be the team to beat in the CFL East again, and if the Riders wish to avoid the ignominous fate of the 1954-56 Montreal Alouettes (more on that in my pre-game post on the Alouette-Rider game at Mosaic on July 9) changes needed to be made.

I’m not sold on Richie Hall as defensive co-ordinator. His defences have a reputation for being too passive. But most of the other changes, outside of losing Fantuz to the Bears which the Riders could do nothing about once he got offered a contract, I feel pretty positive about. Except for the uncertainty at placekicker. That’s a big concern with Congi out.

prairie dog has media accreditation from the Riders. I’ll be at the game, and will provide some post-game coverage on the blog. So check back, and feel free to offer your thoughts on the game and the upcoming season.