The Riders will see a lot of the Eskimos in 2014. With Ottawa joining the league, and Winnipeg shifting back to the West from the East, the CFL has rejigged its schedule. This year, that works in the Riders favour as they have three games each against Edmonton and Winnipeg and only two against B.C. and Calgary. Not to take anything away from the Eskimos and Bombers, but they aren’t in the same class as the Lions and Stamps. Those two teams, by the way, play each other three times so again that confers a slight advantage to the Green & White.
In addition to this tilt, there’s two other exhibition games tonight. After that, teams will make their final cuts on Saturday in preparation for the kick-off to the 2014 season which will happen on June 26 when Toronto visits Winnipeg. The Riders first regular season game is on June 29. It’s a Grey Cup rematch against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders still have some big holes to fill, obviously. At this point, running back is likely the biggest concern. Kory Sheets was an elite back, so the odds of replacing him with an equally great back are pretty long. Depending on how the ratio of imports to non-imports (or internationals to nationals, as per the new collective bargaining agreement) breaks down, the Riders will likely look at deploying a couple of backs with a blend of power, speed and pass-catching capabilities. And whoever the Riders start, they’ll be running behind a top notch O-line (pictured above, in a game against Edmonton on Nov. 2).
Finding an interior receiver to replace Weston Dressler is another priority. At this point, Brett Swain seems the odds on favourite to fill that role. He’s had some NFL experience over the last few seasons, and caught two TD passes in the Riders 21-17 victory against the Redblacks on June 14. QB Darian Durant saw limited action in that game, so the coaching staff will likely be keen to see more of Swain with the first-team offence tonight.
In the Ottawa game the defence looked pretty solid. Sure, Ottawa is an expansion team. But thanks to the draft and some free agent signings, they have a lot of veteran talent. But the Eskimos will provide a good test too. On special teams, one highlight for the Riders was a 75-yard punt return for a TD by DB/kick returner Marshay Green. But, of course, you have to take everything that happens during the exhibition season with a grain of salt.
Tonight’s game goes at Mosaic Stadium at 7 p.m. TSN is showing the Ottawa vs. Montreal and Calgary vs. B.C. games tonight, so I don’t believe the Rider game is being broadcast. So if you’re not in the stands you’ll have to resort to radio to keep track of the action.