10 BURNING QUESTIONS
With the countdown on to the start of Saskatchewan Roughriders 2017 Training Camp presented by Coors Light which begins Sunday in Saskatoon, here are some questions going into camp:
1 - IS THIS CAMP ALL ABOUT VINCE YOUNG?: Absolutely not. However that question was posed on Global Regina's sports roundtable on Wednesday. For anyone outside of the 306 - particularly Young's vast amount of fans in America - the #1 focus is Young. However for the 70-some other players in camp, the attention on Young is a disservice.
Early on, everyone's eyes will be on #8 however just like the Florida minicamp, that interest will likely tail off and other names will emerge as camp wears on.
2 - WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CAMP BATTLE?: Chris Jones surmised last week that it's the receiver group, and he may be right, but my focus will be on the offensive line. Right now the 1's will likely be made up of DENNIS-LABATTE-CLARK-ST.JOHN-COLEMAN and that's unlikely to change right through the preseason. However the Riders drafted four linemen in this year's CFL Draft which tells you they'd like to beef up the competition. They added former Alouette Ryan White in free agency and have brought along Dillon Guy as he rehabbed from injury all of last season.
Labatte's neck injury, which ended his season last year, has seemingly come around to the point that he's entrenched as a starter, and rightfully so. However there are several questions around this position and the team's fortunes continue to be tied to it.
If Labatte goes down and/or Josaih St. John isn't ready to take the next step, this could quickly become a problem area.
3 - WHO STARTS AT QB IN WEEK 1?: It's a great question and a reasonable one at that. However it's farrrrrrr too early to make any assumptions. Kevin Glenn's veteran status and efficient performance in the Florida minicamp proved that he's the #1 quarterback going into camp. But will he stay there? That will depend on the play of the pivots behind him in Saskatoon and in the preseason. The Riders will go to camp with Glenn, Young, Brandon Bridge, Bryan Bennett and Maty Mauk and it'll be a delicious battle.
A juicer question may be, "Can the Riders win a Grey Cup with Kevin Glenn at QB?" K.G. may be the oldest player in the league, but it's only by a few months over Toronto's Ricky Ray. However Ricky boasts two Grey Cup rings while Glenn is still searching for his first CFL title.
Will it come with the Green & White? There's no reason why not. Chris Jones knows defense wins championship and that will be the Riders' bread & butter this year. If Glenn successfully fills the role of "game manager", this team could achieve great things.
4 - IS ROB BAGG UNTOUCHABLE?: Probably, yeah. The 32-year old just continues to bring too much to the table. He's only missed two games the past four seasons which is a testament to his durability and, physically, he said he's never felt better than he did last year. He's got PLENTY left in the tank and he also provides off-the-charts leadership. If you're looking to buy a jersey, it's a good bet to go with #6 BAGG.
5 - WHO WILL BE THE RUNNING BACK?: With apologies to the quarterbacks, receivers and offensive line, this may actually be the most intriguing competition in Saskatoon. With the tragic loss of Joe McNight in December, the starting tailback job became a wide open race because it was going to be McKnight's job to lose. Canadians Kienan LaFrance and Greg Morris provide a tantalizing ratio-busting option however if they're out-performed by Americans Daniel Thomas and Cameron Marshall, the Riders may be forced to start a Canadian elsewhere.
We'll have to wait to see how they fare in the exhibition games before we rush to judgment.
6 - WHO WILL BE THE SEVEN STARTING CANADIANS?: Don't look now, but the Riders have built a quality stable of starting calibre non-imports. With three on the offensive line, potentially two receivers and Canadians starting at DT (Eddie Steele), MLB (Henoc Muamba) and S (Marc-Olivier Brouillette), they're at eight right there. There's talk of two starting Canadian linebackers as well, so Saskatchewan is in far better shape with "Nationals" than they were a year ago.
7 - WHO'S IN THE FRONT SEVEN?: The talk in the CFL is that not only may the Riders have the best group of receivers, but they may have the best front seven as well. DT Eddie Steele's resume is unquestioned and his interior partner Zach Minter may end up being the team's most-prized free agent signing. With the likes of Willie Jefferson, Jonathan Newsome and A.C. Leonard coming off the edge, the defensive line is stout. In the linebacking corps, the team needs to replace Jeff Knox Jr. and Otha Foster but Glenn Love and Sam Eguavoen are ready to step right in.
When you throw in Canadians like Muamba, Dillon Grondin, Alexander Gagne, Cameron Judge and Kevin Francis, you start to see the options which are available.
8 - THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD: The Riders have never stated that this is an area of concern, but it's one which bares close scrutiny. The loss of Justin Cox was a big one but if rookie Zavian Bingham picks up where he left off in Florida, the club may not miss a beat. Ed Gainey returns to halfback, Brouillette should have the safety spot locked down and Kacy Rodgers returns to patrol the corner. After that, there's a wealth of names to look at including Mike Edem, Tevaughn Campbell, Royce Adams, Mark Roberts, Eric Allen, Regis Ball, Eric Dargan, Alfonzo Dennard, Jeff Hecht and Tyler Hunter. None of these bodies are filler. They're on the roster because any one of them has the ability to start.
9 - HOW ARE WE ON SPECIAL TEAMS?: Special Teams Coordinator Craig Dickenson should be sleeping well. The kicking and punting game are handled by veterans Tyler Crapigna and Josh Bartel while Jorgen Hus returns to do the long-snapping. Chad Owens isn't mentioned with the receiver group because he was signed to be the primary returner however Nic Demski has shone in that role as well. There was also talk of Michigan Wolverines star Dennis Norfleet coming to Saskatchewan but that buzz seems to have fizzled. Perhaps his name will resurface at some point. However as far as overall talent goes, Dickenson should have his pick of more-than-capable athletes to fill out his Special Teams Units.
10 - WHAT'S THE OUTLOOK?: The Roughriders go into the 2017 season flying under the radar, which suits them just fine. While a blindman can see the Riders have vastly improved their talent level, the prognosticators figure it'll be tough for the Riders to fit into a playoff spot in the ultra-tough West Division. And with big improvements expected in the East Division, a crossover playoff berth seems unlikely.
I've gone on record as predicting a 10-win season and stand by that. CFL-types from across the league have scoffed, "Who are they going to beat?" but my reply is, "That's why they play the games". The Riders are going into the season with a quiet confidence about them and Jones' staff feels this will be a breakthrough year.
My expectation is a third-place finish which carries with it a playoff spot in the West.
After what this team's been through the past three seasons, I think we'd all be satisfied with that. Please vote in the Titan Auto Poll at the top left of the page regarding where you think the Riders will finish this year.
THOSE ARE MY THOUGHTS. WHAT ARE YOURS?