Rider LogoSaturday afternoon the Riders take the field at Commonwealth Stadium against the Edmonton Eskimos for their first game of the 2013 CFL season (TSN, 1:30 p.m.)

As was noted previously on Rider Fan Forum the off-season was an eventful one in Riderville with numerous changes in the coaching and player ranks. Now that training camp and the two exhibition games (a 31-24 victory over the Esks on June 14 and a 24-23 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on June 20) are in the books Earl Camembert, Ron Mexico and Cal Corduroy are here to offer their assessment on how the Riders stack up against their CFL rivals in 2013.

Based on what you saw in training camp and pre-season, how would you rate the Riders’ performance on offense?

CC:  Great to be back on Fan Forum again. I hate to be a broken record, but I’m nervous about the Rider offense despite the hiring of George Cortez as offensive coordinator. The running game seems OK — provided Kory Sheets doesn’t get hurt. The passing game is awfully suspect. “Is this the year Darian Durant becomes an elite quarterback?” is my perennial question. But if he doesn’t get any time it will be a train wreck. Having said that, even if he does get time, he needs to use his legs to be effective.  He just has to make sure he doesn’t get killed in the process.  Even Ricky Ray uses his pretzel legs periodically to be effective.  My hope is that by mid-season Cortez and Durant are on the same page. As for the receivers, Geroy Simon and Robb Bagg were invisible in the preseason and both have a tendency to miss the odd game with injury (so to speak). I hope Taj Smith can turn into something… we’ll see.

RM: The Rider running game seems okay. Sheets is just fine. I don’t know if it was just because it was pre-season, but I’m wondering if the days of Durant running are over. I wasn’t very impressed with the passing game, although a lot of that might be due to the play of the offensive line. What I saw were a number of receivers who weren’t getting open. I said before that Geroy Simon would be a non-event this year. I hope it isn’t even worse than that. I didn’t see anything out of Rob Bagg either. Taj Smith appears to be a guy ready to make a big step forward

EC: The pre-season went pretty much the way I expected. It looks like the running game is in good hands with Kory Sheets.  He seems to crack off a 20 or 25 yarder every game. As far as the passing game goes, I was disappointed but not surprised that Geroy Simon ran one pattern and then pulled his hamstring. Meanwhile, Durant was running for his life in the Calgary game. Losing Patrick Neufeld at right tackle seems like more of a problem than I initially thought it would be. They need to be way better on the line for anything to happen in the passing game. If not, then the other teams will load up against Sheets. 

What about on defense?

CC: The answer to this question will always be subject to a caveat as long as Richie Hall continues to coordinate the vanilla defense.  I think the talent pool is definitely improved (and, I admit, I’ll eat some crow, GM Brendan Taman has done a really good job on the defense in the off-season). John Chick, Ricky Foley and Tearrius George will have to be blocked, and you can’t double team all of them. I like the idea of Tyron Brackenridge at safety.  I’m not sure if I like the idea of Craig Butler at linebacker.

RM: I think the defence will be real good. I don’t know about the Brackenridge-Butler switch but the rest looks fine. Chick seems to still have lots of ability. Rey Williams looked real good at linebacker as did Tearrius “Curious” George. A guy who looked bad when I watched him was Ricky Foley. I’m a bit surprised that Sam Hurl doesn’t seem any closer to semi-regular duty.

EC: I expect the defence to be really good, subject to the depressing fact that they’re still coached by Richie Hall. He must have some incriminating pictures of someone high up in the Rider organization. If I have to watch the death by a thousand 12 to 15 yard outs at the end of games this year I will not be a happy camper. They seem to have improved all around. Tearrius George is going to have a big year if he doesn’t get suspended any more. 

On special teams, how did you think the kickers performed? What about the return and cover teams?

CC I’m not sure about the kicking (who is?). Ricky Schmitt can punt. Field goal kicking will likely be as consistent as the officiating. I hope I’m wrong. Regarding the returners, I’m still from Missouri when it comes to the loss of special teams coach Craig “Dick”inson. Granted, he was a dick for his attitude and deserved to be bounced. But the Riders have a history of turning the special teams into a sh*t show (Jim Daley, Kavis Reed).  So while Jock Sanders didn’t look bad out there, the special teams have me more nervous than the offense.

RM: The kickers, obviously, are shaky. I wonder how they’ve looked in practice where they’re kicking field goals repeatedly every single day. The punter Schmitt seems real good, and the punt and kickoff coverage teams looked outstanding. I’m quite high on Jock Sanders as a returner. The first year long snapper (Levi Steinhauer) may cause some grey hair. He screwed up one field goal snap in the home game.

EC: The field goal kickers are a concern. You’re on the edge of your seat, or going for a $9 beer so you don’t have to watch, when they send the field goal team out.  Anything over 40 yards is a complete turkey shoot. Ricky Schmitt can really punt. Jock Sanders seems like a good returner. It wouldn’t surprise me if he took one or two back this year. Will losing the special teams coach make a difference?  Unless they brought in Jim Daley to replace him, I don’t see it as a big deal. 

How do you see the West Division shaping up?

CC: Unfortunately, B.C. first. I think the Riders have some talent and can be a real tough team if they play up to their talent level. Unfortunately, they seldom do. But I do like Chamblin, Cortez is proven, and Richie Hall is… forget it. Calgary third, and Edmonton last — Edmonton stinks.

RM:  I think that B.C. finishes first, fairly handily. The Riders finish second at around 10-8 or maybe 11-7, with Calgary right behind in third. Edmonton will stink which is just fine with me.

EC: B.C. will be tough.  Calgary is a bunch of assholes. Edmonton stinks, and their head coach Kavis Reed is a boob. Let’s remember, he was the one whose over-coaching cost the Riders the 2009 Grey Cup. Riders will finish second.

What about the East Division?

CC: Toronto on top.  I think Hamilton with Kent Austin will be better (although they still have Henry at QB) and Montreal will be worse with Anthony Calvillo receiving snaps in his wheelchair (how old is that guy — 70?). But they will battle it out in the middle of that division. Winnipeg will be last — partially because they deserve it, and partially because they will default a bunch of their home games because they won’t be able to get to the stadium. The fact that their coach is a complete dick-wad only adds to the argument.

RM: I think Toronto is the beast of the East by a comfortable margin. Chad Kackert might win the rushing title, and Chad Owens will be great again, as will Ricky Ray. Montreal is slipping and will be around .500 and second. Hamilton will be around 8-10 and hopefully Burris will reek and the legend of Kent Austin will come back to reality. Winnipeg will be a total laughing stock with three or four wins.

EC: Toronto is the best team out East if Ray stays on his feet. Montreal is in big time decline, and without head coach Marc Trestman they’re sucking the hind one. Calvillo reminds me of George Blanda with the Oakland Raiders in the ’70s. Winnipeg is the worst team in the league and a total shit show with that clown Joe Mack running the team as GM. Kent Austin might make Hamilton better but he has that phony loser Henry Burris at QB… oh, and he’s got that turncoat Andy Fantuz too.