Training Camp Primer

Preview

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.

Shrinking Window

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.

Riders Depth ChartThe 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.

Thank You, Doubles

It’s hard to find a common consensus to sum up Durant’s tenure in Saskatchewan, ask 5 fans on the street on how they felt about Durant as a starting quarterback you may get 5 different answers.

Recap

Buried in the depth chart during the 2006 and 2007 seasons Durant finally burst on to the scene in 2008 after the Riders traded Grey Cup Champion from the year prior, Kerry Joseph, to the Toronto Argonauts. Durant made the most of his opportunities in a crowded QB room among the likes of Marcus Crandell, Steven Jyles and Michael Bishop, throwing for 7 touchdowns and rushing for 1 more before a rib injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. 2009 saw Durant beat out Steven Jyles for the starting QB job throwing for 24 Touchdowns and 21 Interceptions, leading the Riders to a Grey Cup appearance (we won’t talk about that ending though). The following year saw much of the same in Durant surpassing his TD total from the year prior with 25 touchdowns, along with 22 Interceptions to boot. However the 2010 Season saw him throw for a career high 5,542 yards and led the Riders to yet another Grey Cup appearance.

The 2011 and 2012 campaigns Durant’s production took a dip as the team around him began to age and coaching changes were taking place at a rapid clip as the Riders went from Ken Miller to Greg Marshall, back to Miller to finally hiring Corey Chamblin before the 2012 season. After missing the playoffs (2011) and yet another heartbreaking playoff loss for the 3rd time in 4 years (WSF 36-30 loss to Calgary), questions began to loom if Durant would ever be able to win “the big one”.

Our Finest Moment

In 2013, Rider fans saw what might have been the greatest Rider team ever assembled along with some of the best quarterback play we have ever witnessed. In knowing that Saskatchewan was going to be hosting the Grey Cup that season and seeing the Lions and Argos hoist the trophy on home soil each of the last two seasons, GM Brendan Taman went all in bringing aboard Geroy Simon, Dwight Anderson, John Chick, Ricky Foley and Weldon Brown. This on top of Korey Sheets, Dressler, Craig Butler, Chris Getzlaf and Robb Bagg. Durant would put up career numbers in touchdowns (31) and passer rating (95.7) capped off with 4,154 yards passing. But perhaps his finest moment came in the Western Semi-Final when facing a 25-16 deficit, Durant literally put the team on his legs, rushing 6 times for 97 yards, killing the clock and marching the Riders into scoring position. The end of the 2013 playoff run capped with Grey Cup victory on home field saw Durant post 8 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 795 yards passing while rushing for 141 yards in three games, absolute domination.

While Rider fans will be left wondering what could’ve been in 2014 and beyond as injuries grinded Durant’s run to a halt before being traded shortly after the 2016 season, we should take solace in the fact that Durant helped build something special in Riderville (including a new stadium). I shudder to think what this last decade could’ve looked like if we gave the keys to Michael Bishop or Steven Jyles all those years ago. Summing it up, Durant led the Riders to 3 Grey Cup appearances, 1 win and only missed the playoffs once as a full time starter (2011). What could’ve been another 18 year Grey Cup drought, was much less and regardless if you feel that the team surrounding Durant that Grey Cup season was the main reason for it, without Durant’s brilliant playoff performances, 2013’s magical run would not have happened.

When It’s All Said and Done

Despite the rollercoaster of a ride, the inconsistent play during the regular season and some disappointing playoff endings, Durant helped keep this team relevant after their 2007 Grey Cup win, when the wheel realistically could’ve came off after trading Kerry Joseph. I hope all Rider fans take today to thank Darian and his contributions and let this be a day of remembering what he brought to the team, city and the community.

Thank you, Darian.