Smell The Improvement

We reckon the Riders’ offseason activity augers auspiciously

Rider Fan Forum | by Gregory Beatty

There’s been a ton of activity in Riderville since the Toronto Argonauts hoisted the Grey Cup in Ottawa on Nov. 26 after their stunning yet hilarious upset win over the evil Calgary Stampeders.

To recap all the player moves and see how the Riders are shaping up heading into spring, we’re joined by our Prairie Dog panel of pseudonymous experts: Ivanka Trudeau, Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico. Everybody put your cheering lungs in — it’s time for the first installment of 2018’s Rider Fan Forum series!

QB Zach Collaros was the team’s biggest off-season acquisition. Do you see him being an impact player?

IVANKA TRUDEAU I really do. He has struggled with injuries (and performance) recently, but I still think he has a lot of upside. As long as he’s healthy now, I think he’s an upgrade from Kevin Glenn. I still think Brandon Bridge is promising, too, so hopefully we’ll have two good QB options.

CAL CORDUROY I do, although there are risks associated with him. First, can he regain his confidence after becoming the back-up in Hamilton? I think the bigger issue is his ability to stay on the field for 18 games.

EARL CAMEMBERT I’m not sure what to make of Collaros, but for now I’m in the camp of him being another guy in an increasingly long line who fell victim to “Kent Austin is an asshole” syndrome. That is, they’re good (Collaros was having a Schenley season in 2015 until he got hurt) and then throw an interception Kenny doesn’t like, at which point he drives them into the ground. Will he be better than Glenn? During the regular season, probably not. But it’s the playoffs that matter. Glenn could never get it done in the playoffs.

RON MEXICO I’m skeptical, as it’s been some time since he’s been good and he’s been set back by injuries. I’m surprised the Riders paid him the money they did. If a NFL team signed Robert Griffin III, he wouldn’t be paid as the RG3 who was NFL rookie of the year. He’d be paid as a QB who’d dramatically tailed off after suffering significant injuries. The Riders didn’t do the same with Collaros, and I’m not sure why. Where was he going to go?

With the rest of the roster moves, which stand out as pluses? Minuses?

IVT I was thrilled to see them re-sign Duron Carter (with his, ahem, quirks) and DE Willie Jefferson, since those two were likely our best players last year. I was disappointed to see LB Henoc Muamba released, but presumably it was cap and/or bonus-related. Hopefully OL Travis Bond will be good since we released Derek Dennis and have not yet re-signed Bruce Campbell. Nice to see DT Zack Evans and RB Jerome Messam back. Overall, I agree with the moves Coach Jones has made. And I like that we’re willing to release players to pursue their NFL dreams.

CC Gotta like Messam coming back to the Green & White. Let’s hope Charlie Hughes can be as good for the Riders as he was against them. Nice to get Carter back (even tho he’s crazy… great, but crazy). Evans is a nice signing, as is Bond to shore up the weakest part of the line-up last year, especially after the failed Dennis experiment. Whenever you let guys go to the NFL, you know they’re pretty good players. I suspect we’ll see LB Jeff Knox back after he gets hacked by an NFL team. Due to the cap (I assume), some talent was released, including Muamba, who had a good season last year.

EC Improving the Canadian talent appears to have been a priority, an approach I agree with. So signing Messam, Evans, LB Sam Hurl and receiver Devon Bailey are pluses. That allowed the Riders to sign Bond which signals to me they want to play another American on the O-line. The line needed an upgrade, and that might allow them to play Brendon LaBatte at centre.

On the negative side, I wonder about cutting Muamba, but I trust the process Chris Jones, Jeremy O’Day and John Murphy go through in deciding whether a guy is too expensive. Despite all the bleating about Durant, Chick, Dressler, etc, they were right about them. Although, overall, I have to say their free agent signings have been anything but stellar.

RM I think Evans is the top signing. Messam and Hughes also stand out. Both are still good and have a little time left. By some accounts, Hurl was one of the weakest starting linebackers in the league last year for Winnipeg. I’m not really keen on bringing him back.

Plenty of other CFL teams were active in the off-season. Any stand out as having taken a major step forward? Backward?

IVT Some seem to think Winnipeg made some good moves but I’m not so sure. Seems like they still go after other teams’ cast-offs for the most part. And I don’t think Montreal has done enough to improve either. Maybe the Riders have moved forward the most? Time will tell!

CC Lots of folks think the Stamps did a good job by signing players that made them younger and better. Riders are also winners. Argos lose. Ti-Cats lose.

EC Montreal has done nothing except gas Durant. They needed to gas GM Kavis Reed, so they stepped back. Hamilton brought Orlando Steinhauer back as an assistant head coach, which seems to be a plus, but they also brought in Jerry Glanville as their D co-ordinator. I think they’ll be better. The Argos and Redblacks resigned their important players and seem about the same. In the West, Winnipeg has lost Bond, Hurl, QB Dan LeFevour and DL Jamaal Westerman. They’ll be worse, and last year’s 12–6 record was a fluke to begin with. B.C. hasn’t done anything I can see. Edmonton and Calgary don’t look like they did much either, but Calgary always gets it done, so they’ll be good.  Edmonton is okay if QB Mike Riley stays healthy — but terrible if he doesn’t.

RM I would say the Riders and Toronto (signing Ricky Ray and SJ Green) caught my attention as having good off seasons.

For this column, and this column only, I’m granting you magic powers. If you could change one thing about the CFL, what would it be?

IVT I’d like to see the season moved up, but only a week or two… and allowing a Canadian QB to count as a National for the import ratio. I think they struck a decent balance on limiting the video review challenges last year, and I don’t think there’s a need to move away from the East-West division format if we are (hopefully) going to have 10 teams in the league soon.

CC I can’t see ANYONE not thinking the ridiculous pass interference rules/challenges have to go.

EC Get rid of that stupid challenge on pass interference. The calls and missed calls even out over a season, so who cares? Also, get rid of the no yards penalty and put in a fair catch. All that rule does is add four or five penalties every game, and doesn’t increase the number of punts returned for TDs over what you see in college and the NFL anyway.

RM I’d change the no yards rule on punts. It doesn’t create big returns. It creates constant penalties. It isn’t even a fair penalty as guys sprinting downfield with their back to a ball dropping out of the air get penalized. The NFL’s precision punting is not boring, and the punts that lead to fair catches in the NFL are the ones that lead to no yards penalties or Stew Fraser returns in the CFL.

One more question. Who do you like in the Brier?

IVT Ahhh — you caught me by surprise.  I haven’t even thought about the Brier. No idea!

CC Stephen Laycock [insert maniacal laugh]. Sorry… the Brads: Jacobs or Gushue.

EC Jamie Koe from the NWT — he’s due.

RM I’ll take the Jacobs rink out of Northern Ontario. Very much looking forward to the Brier being in Regina.