With Training Camp is set to kick-off in a few days in Saskatoon, expectations are higher than previous years for the Riders. Coming off a 10-8 record and a 4th place finish in the West that saw them crossover to the East defeating the defending the then defending Grey Cup champion RedBlacks, the Riders are expected to pose a significant threat to the West this season. It feels like a lifetime ago when fans were calling for Chris Jones’ head after the release of Dressler, Chick and other fan favorites but numerous signings, trades and draft picks later the refreshed Riders roster is light years ahead of the dismal roster Jones inherited.
It’s odd to thinking about a closing championship window when it feels like the Riders are still trending upwards but this is football after all. And while the 2018 version of the Roughriders roster are primed to make a run, one has to remember that championship windows are short in football and though it’s been a slow build back to prominence, the Riders are in “win now” form. One can’t be certain how much longer Duron Carter will stick around in the CFL, he’s been singing 1-year deals at a time and is set to become a free agent once again in 2019. Messam, the 33 year-old workhorse running back along with his fellow former Stamp DE Charleston Hughes (34) probably won’t be dawning green and white for very long post-2018. Tack on Chad Owens (36), Jovon Johnson (34), Robb Bagg (33), Marc-Olivier Brouillette (32), Thaddeus Coleman (32), Marcus Thigpen (32), Brendon Labatte (31), Bakari Grant (30), Crezdon Butler (30) and Naaman Roosevelt (30) who are all either entering their prime or the twilight of their careers. This is not to say CFL players hit a brick wall at 30 years old, it’s different for every player but that is a large number of contributors who are north of 30 years old.
Jaimie Nye of the Green Zone put together a mock depth chart going into Training Camp and the Riders have massive depth at the skill positions.
The biggest weaknesses are at the offensive line and linebacker position. In my previous write-up outlining the QB competition between Bridge and Collaros, I mentioned that Bridge spent a majority of last season using his legs as his biggest weapon, often escaping pressure that Glenn was unable to. Common sense would dictate that the Riders want to avoid a similar scenario this season and took steps to change that with the addition of Offensive Guard Travis Bond.
What To Expect
The cliché saying “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” is often used in the sporting landscape however it may have never been more true than what to expect from the 2018 Roughriders. Being loaded at Running Back and the Receiver positions bode well for whoever resides under center for the season, but that may not mean anything if the line can’t protect and buy Bridge or Collaros the time they need in the pocket. No matter how open Carter, Grant, Roosevelt, Bagg or Holley get, if the Quarterback is running for his life (see the 2017 Seahawks), this team won’t go very far. On the defensive side, there is lots of talent to be had at multiple positions but depth is a cause for concern for this squad behind Johnson, Gainey, Jefferson or Hughes is a lot of unproven talent.
Strong as our weakest link.
Either way Rider fans should be optimistic going into 2018’s Training Camp, despite aforementioned points, there always seems to be a surprise stand-out contributor or a “diamond in the rough” that helps alleviate depth issues. Also, one really has no choice but to trust in Jones who has taken this team from 3-15 the year before he took over to 5-13 in 2016 to a game away from the Grey Cup and a 10-8 record. Expectations should be high, but they must capitalize because just as fast as they’ve rose to prominence, they could fall back down.