photo by Darrol Hofmeister
With camp set to open, the Riders have questions on and off the field
by Stephen LaRose
With rookies reporting to the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp on June 2, and regular training camp beginning at Mosaic Stadium on June 6, it’s right and proper to take a look at the upcoming season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
How do the Roughriders look this year?
Pretty snazzy, with green and white uniforms and all.
Now that I’m done playing “silly bugger”, the Riders should be strong again on offensive. After his CFL West All-Star nod in 2009, no one’s questioning Darian Durant at starting quarterback. The receiving core will range from all right (without Weston Dressler, who’s still bothered by a broken leg he suffered against the Argonauts last year) to holy expletive (if/when Dressler’s okay, and Preache Rodriguez, obtained in an off-season trade with Hamilton, lives up to his billing as a rangy speedster).
Either way, the passing attack should open up room for the running game. Coming off a sub-par 2009, Wes Cates will aim for a return to his 2008 form when he was a CFL All-Star. At training camp, he’ll be pushed by Hugh Charles who started several games early in 2009 when Cates was out with a shoulder injury. The O-line, though getting on in years, is still pretty strong, with excellent backup strength.
Last year Durant started all 18 games. Going into camp, the Rider brass has to be concerned about the possibility of him being sidelined by injury. With the recent signing of Bomber reject Ryan Dinwoodie and Kansas prospect Todd Reesing, along with 2009 holdovers Cole Bergquist and Kent Smith, there’s no apparent shortage of talent. But at this point lack of CFL experience is a definite worry.
Assuming Durant stays healthy, the Riders will score a lot of points. They’ll need to after the off-season loss of CFL defensive player of the year John Chick and his counterpart on the other side of D-line, Stevie Baggs, along with starting middle linebacker Rey Williams, to the NFL. Veteran Rider DB Eddie Davis has also retired, and while the Rider secondary remains strong, his leadership will be missed. So going into camp, the defence, at best, is a work in progress.
What about the new collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association?
Much ado about not much. The teams won’t be screwing around with the Canadian content ratio (which is good) or with the salary cap for at least the first year of the contract. The big change is going to come with the drug testing program.
On first blush, it’s hypocritical for prairie dog to criticize the CFL for its lack of drug testing. We’ve long regarded the Republican/Conservative “war on drugs” as a make-work project for police. With cannabis, there’s no reason not to treat it as a health issue (like cigarettes and alcohol) rather than a law enforcement issue. But the CFL’s board of governors fired two commissioners in the last decade because, in part, Mike Lysko and Tom Wright figured the CFL should implement an anti-doping program.
While some CFL players have been in the forefront of youth-directed anti-drug programs, owners ignored other players’ drug use so teams could sign American players who ran afoul of NFL or NCAA policies. Owners also believed casual fans didn’t care whether steroid use meant players would play Russian roulette with their long-term health, just as World Wrestling Entertainment and Major League Baseball fans didn’t care whether their favorites were ’roided up.
To understand just how prevalent steroid use may be in the CFL, look at the prime breeding ground for the league’s Canadian talent. Since 1990, Canadian Intervarsity Sports has tested about 5,800 student athletes for drugs — 56 failed the doping tests. Fifty-four of those athletes were men, 45 of them football players, and of that number 25 tested positive for steroids. Why? Probably most of the steroid users wanted to impress CFL scouts. Since the league didn’t drug test, who cared if they got caught?
The real question is whether the CFL’s testing procedures will comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s guidelines. If they do, the tests will be better than window-dressing. Odds are that it won’t be WADA-compliant. We’ll know when the deal’s ratified July 1.
What about the proposed new stadium?
Roughrider fans are manic depressives. The stadium talk is in the manic phase right now.
When Canadian Taxpayers Federation Foghorn Leghorn impersonator Lee Harding argued against the proposed dome last September, he claimed Mosaic Stadium needed only $6 million of structural repairs. That’s even more fantastically delusional than most of the anti-tax, anti-public investment positions that the CTF typically takes. People are physically bigger than they were in 1948 when the city built the first permanent section of Taylor Field, and the stands at Mosaic Stadium are too crowded to accommodate 27,500 ticket holders. There’s not enough bathrooms, and the food and beverage service facilities are terrible. Bottom line, the club has outgrown the stadium. Taylor Field is the cradle of Rider Pride, but the cradle is, regrettably, beyond salvage. But that doesn’t mean a $450 million plus domed stadium is the answer. The manic-depressive nature of Saskatchewan society in general — and the Rider Nation in particular — hopefully won’t lead to a really dumb decision being made.
So who’s going to win?
Yeah. They have the strongest team overall at the World Cup. Oh … you mean the CFL season? When you eliminate only two teams after an 18-game regular season, the regular season is a joke. The CFL gets serious only after Labour Day. And the Riders have a Grey Cup to defend.
A Grey Cup to defend?
Yeah. Didn’t you see last year’s Grey Cup? The Riders won. They were leading when time expired on the clock. So they won, right?
That damn 13th man.