For the lead item of this week's MMG, CKRM football analyst and 9-year CFL veteran Luc Mullinder commandeers the column for a Pro Perspective look at Saturday's annual Saskatchewan Roughriders Green & White mock game at Griffith's Stadium:
By: Luc Mullinder
SASKATOON -- It was a great day for football at the U of S this Saturday. Here are some observations:
- Aside from the little bit of rain that hit right as the team was completing their individual warm-ups, everything from the temperature to the fact that there was no wind, was favourable to the players.
- The fans came out in droves for the mock game, and were in for a special treat as Coach Corey Chamblin was mic’d up for the duration of the practice. It was a great opportunity for everyone in attendance to experience their own version of the hit HBO documentary “Hard Knocks”. It really built anticipation in the crowd to hear Chamblin directing traffic during warm-ups and Indy period. When he called for the designated captains which were Rob Bagg and Darian Durant on offense, and John Chick with Macho Harris as the defensive representatives, the fans realized that this was going to be as close to a game situation as the coaches could get it.
- Right off the bat fans got a glimpse of the aggressiveness that the Defence will be playing with this year as Shea Emry would register his first sack of 2015 in a 2nd and long situation. Although the refs did not blow the play dead, it was evident that Darian Durant would have been sacked or, at the very least, would have had to escape the pocket.
- As the second drive of the mock game got going, it didn’t take long for 3rd year WR Alex Anthony (#83) to continue the strong first week he’s been enjoying. Anthony hauled in his first grab two plays into the second drive from Kevin Glenn. The national WR has quietly been catching everything thrown his way, and looks to be enjoying some of the freedoms that the new offence is affording his position.
- All in all, the first two drives were really highlighted by the defense as they got constant pressure on whatever QB was out there. The first D-line sack of the year was courtesy of 2 time all-star Tearrius George as the pocket collapsed on Durant and the refs had no choice but to mercifully blow the play dead.
- In the CFL when your Offence doesn’t have a ton of momentum, often times it takes a big Special Teams play to get things in gear. Our SECOND favourite NDSU alumni got the crowd on their feet with an electrifying 50+ yard Punt Return against live coverage. It was just what the doctor ordered because more fireworks were right around the corner.
- The very next drive Rider Nation got the aerial showcase that they all came to see. The O-line began clicking after their slow start, and Darian Durant finally got some time in the pocket. Our franchise QB took no time at all hit and Rob Bagg for 40 yards as he made a spectacular diving catch into the Red Zone. It was vintage Bagger, and fans can expect more of the same when the regular season starts. New offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine is inserting a number of ways to get guys like #6 the ball, and I don’t think he’s dropped a pass all camp. If he has, it hasn’t been often.
- The Rob Bagg highlight reel catch was capped off with Chris Milo stroking a confident 33 yd FG. With competition lining up behind Milo this year, the French Canadian needs to respond, and thus far it looks as though he has been. It’s veteran Hugh O’Neill that has shown some inconsistencies as camp has progressed.
- Coach Chamblin also threw a unique twist into the mock game by adding two overtime scenarios to the day.
The first OT situation was pretty much a wash. The 2nd team defence snuffed out the 1st team offence with guys like (#50) Jake Doughty who showed veteran-like patience on a read/option play that would have been another QB pressure had the refs blown the play dead. Ryan Smith continued to build on his momentum by converting a two-point play that Chamblin had scripted for the end of that segment of practise.
- Before we forget! We have to give the Jamel Richardson fans a brief update; he looks no worse for wear and seems to be “hitting his stride” as we’ve talked about on The Sportscage on 620 CKRM! The more he ascends into game shape, the better for the Riders, and the worse for everybody else!
- The 2nd Overtime situation saw the 2nd team offence up against the 1st team defence, and this was a far different result than the first OT. Despite some troubles getting on the same page, one of the WRs who is gaining significant attention with his performance up to this point, Naaman Roosevelt #82, caught the scrimmage's 1st Touchdown of the day on a 20 yard dig over near the middle of the field. There’s some serious competition going for WR spots on this team, and Roosevelt is definitely one to watch. With guys like Korey Williams, Eric Thomas, Taj Smith, J-Rich, and Greg Hardin out there (to name a few), the more touches the better for anyone! It’s a great problem for the Riders to have, but as we all know, until the real bullets fly, nothing is for certain.
- Before fans could take another sip of their Coors Light (the official sponsor of training camp) Naaman Roosevelt was at it again, catching another touchdown from Kevin Glenn. The Terrence Nunn Award just keeps getting nominees thrown into the mix!
- The next few drives were highlighted by outstanding defensive play, led by our soldiers up front on the D-line. The momentum of Alex Anthony’s second catch was quickly stifled by a Cameron Sheffield sack, and then Derek Walker followed suit on the next drive to ensure that the D-line marked its territory. It was awesome watching the D fly around, and the looks that they were throwing at the O were effective all day. Even Matt Webster, who is another favorite for the T. Nunn award, got in on the party registering what would either have been a sack or pocket moving pressure. If you play well enough to make Corey Chamblin a fan of you, as Webster has, one can only imagine what kind of a confidence booster that is.
- While Steven Miller (#10) did enjoy some success when his number was called, showing off his impressive all-around ability to catch the ball and run, it was mainly a defensive showcase to end the day. Cameron Sheffield was unstoppable from his end position by exhibiting a good mix of patience versus the run, and great hands and athleticism while pressuring the QB constantly, and tallying his second sack of the of the day.
- The last play of the mock game and situational football ended the evening the same way it started, by Markus White getting through clean and sacking the QB, in this case Tino Sunseri.
- Coach Chamblin ended the practise with a brief kicking display that allowed the fans to get a look at all the kickers that have been brought into training camp. At the final whistle the players gathered for any last thoughts with their Head Coach and concluded with their positional units.
- Saturday was a good temperature gauge to evaluate progress and technique. The players got a day of rest on Sunday before they get right back into the swing of things on Monday, and begin prepping for the most important phases of camp, the exhibition games. Coach Chamblin was probably encouraged by some things he saw on both sides of the ball during the mock game, and may have also recognized some things that need to be corrected before camp moves any further.
- It was also clear that the fans loved being out there watching their favourite football team beginning to take shape. The players definitely fed off the energy that Rider Nation supplied, it was out in full force, and for what it was worth on Saturday, they were treated to a fine display of football.
** For further Roughrider training camp commentary, check out Luc's week-old website at www.properspective.ca
ROD'S MONDAY ONE LINERS
- 31 degrees Celsius and a very high UV index are forecast for Day 9 of Roughriders training camp today. I wonder how the rookie Americans will deal with it, as they likely expected to be staying in igloos during their first trip to Canada.
- Following Friday's morning session here in Saskatoon, I took the opportunity to book it back to the Queen City to host the SportsCage in studio with CKRM football analyst Scott Schultz. It was a quick break from a grueling week of training camp, and afforded the opportunity for a fresh take on the 2015 Riders from another one of our analysts. Schultz - who was named to the 2015 Plaza of Honor induction class a few weeks back - admitted the honour still hasn't sunken in yet and won't likely for a number of weeks. However he did report he's asked former teammate Jeremy O'Day to induct him at the ceremony on September 25 in Regina. O'Day has accepted.
- I didn't feel I'd be missing too much by passing on Saturday's "mock" game. We've talked over the past week how the game of football has evolved and it truly has from the 80's and early 90's when the Riders would suit up against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a rookie game at Griffiths Stadium carried live on CKRM. Over time that idea passed but early on in my tenure as voice of the team the Riders would at least play a true intrasquad game in Saskatoon which provided game-like conditions. But that fad passed as well some time during the Shivers/Barrett era and I've been around enough mock games - and seen fans leave Griffiths Stadium disappointed - to know the spit and snot weren't going to fly in this particular display either. It's not like the Regina Pats intrasquad game where players are split into two squads in full game gear (and jerseys) with a full compliment of officials and a working clock.
- Mock games are almost entirely for the benefit of the coaches and that's entirely fair and understandable. I just don't need to be there.
- Wouldn't it be a trip if the Roughriders held a "draft" of their training camp roster and split it up into two teams with honourary coaches? Corey Chamblin could be the Commissioner. It would be unbelievable! But at the same time, it's completely unrealistic. No, we'll have to wait until Saturday's Northern Kickoff in Fort McMurray between the Roughriders and Eskimos to really see the bullets flying with "the lights on".
- Which brings me to the Northern Kickoff. When it was announced two years ago in Edmonton when the Riders were at Commonwealth to face the Eskimos in preseason play, it seemed like 2015 was an eternity away. Now it's here!
- One has to wonder who the "home" team will be on Saturday night in Fort Mac. Tons of Rider fans say they'll be in attendance. I'm still working on getting details on what the weekend will hold. As I said last week, we work one day at a time here and I'm still finalizing guests for Monday's SportsCage! Let alone Friday's SportsCage broadcast from the Fort McMurray Boston Pizza on the Roughrider Radio Network.
- The Rider charter carrying the players and staff won't arrive until Friday evening so there's nothing planned the day before the game. There will be a Riderville Tour pregame party - I'm assuming at the stadium - but I'm still getting the details on that. I've also received word the Eskimos brass won't arrive in town until the morning of the game.
- Regardless, we plan to blow it up like a mini-Grey Cup on this blog and on 620 CKRM! All for a preseason game.
- It's pretty darn cool to have the opportunity to broadcast the northern-most game in CFL history. It's another neat experience in a fun career. However it still nags that the Roughriders were never featured in the Touchdown Atlantic series which seems to have fizzled into oblivion.
- Who knows what the Eskimos will bring to Fort McMurray in terms of roster, and attitude. They are battling a rash of injuries and head coach Chris Jones referred to their Green & Gold scrimmage on Saturday in Spruce Grove, AB as "lethargic".
- One interested observer at Rider training camp last week: Plaza of Honor member Roger Aldag. As usual, "44" showed up inconspicously and watched a morning workout from a stretch of fence at the south end of Griffiths Stadium. I started waving my arms and was going to make a big deal out of Rodge being there but he held his index finger to his lips in a "sssshhhhh" gesture. Low key to the end. That's how Roger rolls. However he was excited to get to Las Vegas this week to attend Friday's Gridiron Greats induction ceremony featuring another Roughrider Hall of Famer, Ray Elgaard. Aldag said he hasn't been to Las Vegas in 20 years which, I assume, was when the Riders visited the Las Vegas Posse.
- You'll have to watch the season premiere episode of In The Huddle on Access Tuesday evening or on Wednesday if Shaw is your cable provider. We'll chat with the Riders' Bob Dyce, Chris Milo, Corey Chamblin, Alex Hall and Noah Picton. Of particular note is the manner in which the Roughriders got Alex Hall his 2013 Grey Cup ring. It's quite a story. As for Noah Picton - whose family owns a string of Dairy Queens in Regina - I asked him if he could have one last Blizzard, what flavour would it be? You'll be SHOCKED to hear his answer.
- Remember Michael Sam? Whatever happened to Michael Sam? His first-ever CFL training camp in Montreal has flown under the radar.
- GREAT to hear former Roughriders defensive line coach and Assistant GM Bobby Vespaziani was a guest at Calgary Stampeders training camp over the weekend. He's one of the all-time greats. Hopefully he comes out to McMahon Stadium when the Riders are in town this year.
- Over in Winnipeg, second round pick Addison Richards participated lightly at Blue Bomber camp on Sunday and head coach Mike O'Shea has NOT ruled Addison out of Tuesday's preseason game at Toronto.
- The 2015 CFL preseason kicks off tonight with Ottawa at Hamilton.
- The Prince Albert Raiders will announce Curtis Hunt as their new General Manager at a news conference today at the Art Hauser Centre. I feel it's a perfect role for Curtis, and the right hire by Raider President Dale McFee, a former teammate of Hunt's.
- Former WHL player and coach Kris Knoblauch is to be interviewed for the head coaching job of the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms. Wonder how much success the Kootenay Ice would have had with Knoblauch if they hadn't run him off? They've been through several coaches since.
- Incidentally this might be the final season for the Ice in Cranbrook if attendance doesn't improve once and for all. A spoiled fanbase. That's what they have.
- The 2017 Telus Cup (national midget hockey championship) has been awarded to Prince George, BC.
- Finally, a couple of notes from the weekend. We got out and enjoyed as many Mosaic pavilions as we could on Saturday afternoon but it was spoiled when I discovered a fingernail in a plate of food I was enjoying up until that very second. I was going to Tweet about it at the time but didn't want to be accused of trying to sabotage the Mosaic festival. Oh, and it for sure was a fingernail. At least a quarter-inch worth.
At what pavilion? I'll never tell. It could've happened anywhere, at any restaurant.
- Tried to get into The Nest Piano Bar & Good Eats on Friday evening but we couldn't get close to the place. Too packed. We opted for Mr. Mike's, a sponsor of 2015 Roughriders Training Camp.
- Saturday night we enjoyed the movie Entourage at Galaxy Cinemas. It was FANTASTIC but a word of caution; you'd better watch the whole HBO series before going to the big screen version otherwise you'll be totally lost in the storyline and its references. Two thumbs-up from the MMG. The list of pro athletes making cameos in the movie included NHLers such as Jarret Stoll and Jeff Carter and a rash of NFLers like Rob Gronkowsky, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady.
- L.A. Kings GM Dean Lombardi told an L.A. newspaper that the hardest meeting he ever had was with pending free agent Jarret Stoll recently. You know what they were talking about. Unfortunately the contents of the meeting were never detailed in the article. I guess we'll find out Jarret's future once July 1 hits.
- Around 3:30 pm Saturday afternoon, everybody became an enthusiast of horse racing and womens soccer. Twitter blew up with American Pharoah's Triple Crown win and stayed strong through Canada's 1-0 WWCUP victory over China. I'll be watching the tournament, but only when Canada's going. You go Kaylyn Kyle! I'm no soccer afficianado but it seems to me the referees handed Canada the game. Even Sportsnet's Arash Madani Tweeted that it was an "iffy" call which award Canada the game-winning penalty kick by Christine Sinclair and we would've been in an uproar if it had gone the other way.
- As for the NBA Finals, it was a treat to listen to Game 2 on ESPN Radio on the drive back up to Saskatoon Sunday evening but truly, my interest in hoops has gone out the window with a brand new season for Canada's Team at hand.
- Oh, and it was a record for RCMP vehicles on Highway 11 Sunday evening. I counted four. At least that's a record for the past 20 years that I've been travelling up and down Louis Riel Trail.
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! THANKS FOR READING...