When the Saskatchewan Roughriders take the field tonight at Mosaic Stadium against the Calgary Stampeders it will be their seventh game of the 18-game CFL season. Earlier this week, I quizzed two long-time season ticket holders about the team’s performance so far. We’ll hook up again at the season’s two-thirds mark. To preserve their anonymity (and protect them from bodily harm in this football-mad province), they’ve adopted pseudonyms:
After six games the Riders “boast” a 1-5 record. Heading into the season, how did you see the team doing?
Ron Mexico: I saw the Riders as the top team in the West. I expected Darian Durant to continue to improve. I did not see them missing Andy Fantuz anywhere close to the degree that he’s been missed. I thought Jerrell Freeman would be a dominant linebacker and he has only been pretty good.
Earl Camembert: The receivers in my view were going to be a concern. But I didn’t think it would cause the problems on offence that it has. I thought the team would be 4-3 or 3-4 at this point.
What grade would you give the offence?
RM: D -. As the lowest ranked offence in the league, I can’t see how they can be given any other grade except perhaps an F. I wouldn’t do that because of the good play of the offensive line — easily the most consistent part of the team. In the B.C. game, every sack I saw was a coverage sack where Durant had a fair amount of time, but appeared to not have anyone open.
EC: F. Aside from Weston Dressler the receivers have been atrocious. The team’s performance in the 3rd quarter in particular, and the 4th quarter as well, has been dismal. One point in the second half against the Lions? Ten against Calgary, including a TD in the first minute of the second half and then basically nothing after? What’s with that?
What about the defense?
RM: Right now, the defence is not the biggest problem and deserves some credit for improvement. They are good enough for us to win, although probably not good enough to win us games on their own. Keith Shologan and Dario Romero have been very good. Defensive tackles don’t get a lot of credit in the stats sheet, but these two have been plugging up the middle. The defensive backs are the biggest obstacle to this being a good defence. The best thus far have been Tristan Jackson, James Patrick, and rookie Craig Butler. But Jackson’s dance and celebration after his huge hit in the Calgary game pissed me off royally. Yes, it was a great hit. But Bryant held on to the ball and gained the first down that was needed to run out the clock. What the hell was he celebrating?
EC: B. After the first couple of games I think they have adjusted to the Richie Hall defence and have been fine. They were also missing James Patrick those first games too which was a real blow.
RM: Special teams have been ok. In any other year they would be looked on as disappointing, but after last year’s debacle I’m just glad that punts are not routinely getting blocked and kicks routinely returned for touchdowns. On the negative side, notice how often the first man downfield tackles our returners.
EC: C. Nothing of significance to report although Eddie Johnson was terrible in B.C.
Is the season salvageable, or after a nine-year playoff run and three Grey Cup appearances in four years is the team in rebuilding mode?
RM: It depends on your definition of salvageable. Remember, this is the CFL where one quarter of the teams, mathematically speaking, make it to the championship game and half host home playoff games. If “salvageable” means making the playoffs, ‘Yes, the season is salvageable.’ I think the Riders will make the playoffs. Will they be above .500 and host a playoff game? No way. I think the team is in rebuilding mode. We’re getting old or are old at key positions including running back, offensive line and linebacker. I’m not a fan of General Manager Brendan Taman. I don’t like his record on player recruitment or drafting. I see him as someone who signs players others have found. Frankly, I find our GM lacks class. I can’t stand to see or hear him interviewed. Shave, put on a suit, shitcan the smart ass remarks. I wasn’t in favour of the Greg Marshall or Richie Hall hirings. Marshall’s lost more games than he’s won as a coach and didn’t inspire confidence in other teams that considered him for a head coaching job. Hall did a poor job in Edmonton and has always played a style of pass defence that is weak and passive. They both seemed like “safe” hires — just like Taman. The impression I got is that all three were chosen for their ability to get along with the people who were hiring them (Jim Hopson and Ken Miller). But the Riders’ performance over the last 4-5 years has built up a lot of goodwill with me. I’m not happy, but I won’t be leading any lynch mobs soon.
EC: The season is salvageable. In reality, they just need to make the playoffs and they have a shot. My bet is that Andy Fantuz is back here by then which will be big. They obviously need Wes Cates as well. Don’t need to make any coaching changes. Management … well, let’s see what happens.
The Riders aside, which team has been the biggest disappointment so far? What about most pleasant surprise?
RM: The biggest disappointment has to be BC, and the biggest surprise must be Edmonton. The former is a pleasant surprise, the latter is not.
EC: Toronto. B.C. isn’t a disappointment because I can’t stand their coach. As for pleasant, Edmonton isn’t pleasant because I can’t stand them period. Maybe Winnipeg.