Monday, September 14, 2015
EMJ MARKETING MONDAY MORNING GOALIE
5 MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS
1 - SO ... NOW WHAT?: Winnipeg's Investors Group Field is quickly turning into a House of Horrors for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The tailspin the franchise currently finds itself in began exactly a year ago when star quarterback Darian Durant saw his season ended with a torn right elbow tendon in the 2014 Banjo Bowl.
Despite our hopes - and the fact the Riders were favoured going into the 2015 Banjo Bowl - more devastation was ultimately heaped on Canada's Team with Saturday's loss. Now at 1-10, you couldn't even begin to convince the most optimistic of Rider fans that there will be a playoff spot waiting at the end of the regular season seven games from now.
The stark reality is the franchise is facing its worst season in history.
The plan for the weeks ahead is currently being discussed for hours on end in the offices at Mosaic Stadium. Right now, we're told there is no plan. Interim head coach Bob Dyce admitted on Saturday's postgame show that they're in a "day-by-day" scenario with how they play to set their roster for the games ahead.
Regarding a starting quarterback for this Saturday's home game against Ottawa, that will be discussed a few points below.
As far as the 2015 Banjo Bowl goes, no one performace that coming. Buoyed by their 37-19 victory over Winnipeg the previous week in the Labour Day Classic, the Riders felt they were on bit of a roll heading into IG Field. At least, as much of a roll that a 1-9 team could be on.
Coordinator Greg Quick's defense came to play, forcing five Blue Bomber turnovers in the opening half but the Riders only had a 7-3 lead to show for it at the break. Slotback Rob Bagg - perhaps the team's top performer the past two weeks - called Saturday's offensive showing "just horrible" and Bob Dyce alluded postgame to the challenges presented by starting a rookie quarterback.
Brett Smith had shown improvement in all of his prior five starts but for some reason on Saturday, his youth and inexperience showed. It seemed to have cooled the Rider Nation on the notion of starting Smith the rest of the way.
One thing we've learned this CFL season is: if you lose your starting quarterback and continue to lose games, you're apt to be fired. Ask Tom Higgins or Corey Chamblin. Winnipeg's Mike O'Shea might have been in some peril as well had Matt Nichols pulled the Banjo Bowl out of the fire.
Kudos to the Bombers by the way, for getting Nichols prepped for a game after having only been in town for a week. The Eastern Washington product wasn't a CFL neophyte however, having beaten the Riders twice in the past calendar year while with the Edmonton Eskimos. But that makes us continue to scratch our heads even more over why the Riders couldn't be more successful with Kerry Joseph last year when he showed up in town on October 9.
We've got a full week of radio and TV shows ahead to deliberate where this franchise is at, where it's been and where it's going, but an interesting email came into blog headquarters on Sunday which made me pause for reflection.
CTV Regina's Don Hewitt wrote via email, "Element of sadness I sense today ... fans realizing it wasn't all Chamblin ... players need an upgrade too".
Of course the wreckage of the past year isn't all Corey Chamblin's fault but when the man seized control of the defensive coordinator responsibilites, along with those of the head coach and basically all of Football Operations, there was no doubt who was going to pay the price.
"He put it all on his shoulders," one Rider staffer said this summer. "If we'd had success, he'd have been in position to take all the credit. Which is fine. But we haven't, so he's got to take the blame."
Plus, Chamblin had no answer for why the team went into the toilet last year when Durant went down with the elbow injury but he vowed steps had been taken in the off-season to ensure that wouldn't happen again.
Durant goes down in Week 1 this year and the team promptly goes 0-9.
See ya later ...
The months of September, October and November will make or break Bob Dyce's chances of remaining this club's head coach into 2016. After the Labour Day Classic win, I was comfortable see Dyce take a step forward towards taking over the job on permanent basis. After Saturday's loss however, one Regina media member asked me if that would be enough to cost Dyce the opportunity.
How preposterous! The loss in Winnipeg does not fall on Dyce's shoulders. That was not a coaching loss. If you scoffed at him getting the job after only one win, you can't howl for his head after only one loss.
However it will be incredibly interesting to see how Dyce handles the next seven games. Does he prep the franchise for the future (i.e. "play the young guys") or does he worry about his own personal record a la Ken Miller in the back half of the 2011 campaign?
As Dyce himself mentioned, it's being sorted out day-by-day.
Miller, a Blue Bomber Hall of Famer and the CFL's all-time special teams tackles leader (184) is a much-respected figure within his hometown of Winnipeg and across the CFL. "Wade gets it," is a phrase I often hear from CFL executives when the topic of Miller comes up. But turning around that franchise has been a gargantuan task.
"I think for the last two years since I took over, it's been a lot of sleepless nights," Miller told us on Saturday's pregame show. "We know we're building, and the record isn't showing it. Being down our starting quarterback (Drew Willy) hasn't helped us at all. But we have a plan and we're sticking to it. The results will come, and we see the positive steps forward but there's the occasional backwards slide. That we need to get corrected."
Miller said it's amazing how supportive the Blue Bomber fanbase has been given the fact their Grey Cup drought is at 26 years.
"Yeah, and then not making the playoffs since 2011," Miller added. "So we have a great fanbase and so do the Roughriders. But it's a fanbase that deserves better, will get better, and we want it now. We're building this and it's gonna take time."
Investors Group Field is billed as the loudest stadium in the CFL and it could also be the nicest as well although B.C. Place Stadium is certainly in the discussion. If you haven't been to Winnipeg's new stadium for a game before, why not make your first game the 2015 Grey Cup?
"Absolutely!" Miller smiled. "It's going to be something really special. The pregame and halftime shows are going to be at one end of the stadium so everybody in the facility will be able to see the concert which is unique to a lot of Grey Cups. And there is not a bad seat in our venue. It's a sunken-in bowl, you can sit in the 200 section and you feel like you're right on top of the action. Our Sky View seats, which are temporary seats we added, which are up for Banjo Bowl, you're a part of the stadium."
To purchase your 2015 Grey Cup tickets, visit www.greycupfestivals.ca.
"All of those are key factors that'll go into that decision," Riders interim GM Jeremy O'Day said on the weekend. "Obviously the nice part of being in my shoes right now is I have a coach that gets to make that decision. But Kevin's getting back to health and he's starting to do more in practice. We're excited to have him back. He's a very good player but by the same token, Brett Smith has taken a lot of strides. We're hoping that it's a very difficult decision in the end but that's for those guys to play out."
The Roughriders' stable of quarterbacks grew last week with the addition of former Georgia Bulldogs pivot Hutson Mason. The Riders' list of arms now includes: Darian Durant, Kevin Glenn, Brett Smith, Keith Price, Blake Sims and Mason. It has fans - and likely the players - wondering what they're going to do with all these quarterbacks?
"With Darian and Kevin out, right now we only have four guys that are practicing," O'Day continued. "With that we're able to kind of control the amount of reps and still get guys the most possible reps. As we get guys back, then that becomes a little more difficult. The last thing you want to do is eat up a spot where a guy's not getting any reps. We may have some decisions moving forward but we feel we have a very good young group of quarterbacks and quite frankly, the reason why we have so many is because it's a very important position on the football team."
The past two weeks the Riders have had to dress all rookie quarterbacks in Smith, Price and Sims. Price was one hit away from going in and Sims was two hits away from taking his first snap. Are they ready for game action after only arriving in town during the summer months?
"I think we've been talking about the young guys for quite awhile and Keith Price is one of those guys," O'Day explained. "In a lotta situations, you don't know until they get an opportunity. I didn't know (as a rookie centre in 1997) if I was going to be a good player until I got into the games and I answered my own questions in those games and realized I can play at this level and be very good at this level. All indications are that those guys are going to be very good players. It's just a matter of when they get that opportunity."
4 - CARTERI'S CORNER: Each week we transcribe the postgame thoughts of 27-year Rider Radio analyst Carm Carteri - a former All-Star CFL linebacker - and this is what he had to say after the Banjo Bowl.
"This is a game the Riders had to win Roddy," Carteri said. "Right now you can pretty much write off the season. I know people were writing them off before this game but we still had hope! A victory in Winnipeg would've brought them two points closer to the Bombers but it wasn't to be for the Riders. It was a Rider team that really couldn't get on track offensively. When you look at what this defense did in the first half, they had five takeaways and the Riders could only muster seven points. That was the big difference here.
"In the second half, the Blue Bombers exploded. They were trailing 7-3 at the half and they just took it to the Riders after that for whatever reason. I don't know if the defense got tired or what but offensively no points by the Riders in the second half.
Carteri agreed that 6-year veteran Matt Nichols - in his Winnipeg debut after only being in town for a week - won the quarterback battle against Rider rookie Brett Smith.
"I would've never guess that Nichols would be able to do what he did to this Rider secondary," Carm said. "He was throwing the ball downfield and I think that was the big difference from last week in the Labour Day Classic. Give Matt Nichols credit - he hasn't been here long but he attacked the Rider secondary and threw some good footballs. But if you're a Rider defense, you can't be that unhappy with the way they played. To hold Winnipeg to only three points in the first half, it's just unfortunate because you expect more out of your offense. It was exactly the opposite all season up until today."
Regarding the seven games ahead, Carteri said "It's going to get ugly" as it pertains to the pressure from the Rider Nation.
5 - JUST NOTES: The CFL is being suitably scorned for scheduling a B.C. Lions home game on the afternoon of Week 1 of the NFL schedule. In the League's defense, the CFL schedule is drafted months ahead of the NFL's but they should have guessed the Seattle Seahawks would be in action at roughly the same time. On Sunday the Ottawa RedBlacks won 31-18 over the Lions at B.C. Place and the announced attendance was 19,833. I'm told that's the lowest in the Wally Buono era which began in 2003, and a CFL official said there were likely 3,000 less than that in the building. The Braley-Skulsky-Buono-Tedford outfit is being flamed for what's going on in Vancouver these days but at the very least, the franchise is not in financial peril ... Hamilton Tiger-Cats Coach & GM Kent Austin was fined $5,000 on Sunday for shoving Argonauts player Dave Stala in the back on the sidelines Friday night at Rogers Centre, despite the fact Austin issued an apology on Sunday afternoon. The move was a head-scratcher, definitely intentional, but incredibly un-Kent-like. He wouldn't have thought twice about doing that as a player, but he's assured us many times he's changed! Maybe not ... Happy birthday today to Roughrider cornerback Paul Woldu and his twin brother Peter! ... Rookie Rider phenom Nic Demski informed us on the flight to his hometown of Winnipeg that he played left wing on the Oak Park High School hockey team and later with a Manitoba Junior AA squad ... Rider quarterback Brett Smith wears a size-14 shoe ... Smith has taken to calling Rider fans the "13's", kind of like what the Seattle Seahawks call their fans (the 12's.). How many 13's will be in attendance at Mosaic Stadium for Saturday's game? The early forecast looks nice ... Had a great pregame visit with former Blue Bomber lineman Obby Khan who has become a very successful restaurateur in Winnipeg. He has four Shawarma huts at IG Field and offered a Shawarma up to this newby before the game. It's kind of like a pita, wrapped tightly around beef/lamb, chicken, lettuce, onions and turnips. Khan said he's in negotiations to open a location in the New Mosaic Stadium ... The CFL's Board of Governors held meetings in Toronto late last week ... but ... who knew? If this was the NHL, TSN's Darren Dreger would've been camped outside the boardroom. Tsk, tsk on the CFL for not publicizing the meetings ... Former Ticat defensive back Delvin Breaux was all over the statsheet in his New Orleans Saints debut Sunday in Arizona, taking four penalties but also coming up with a fumble recovery. Fox play-by-play man Kevin Burkhart talked at length about Breaux's inspiring personal story ... Wednesday is the deadline to book your cabin on the inaugural Football Fan Cruise to the Caribbean hosted by Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and David Black along with Carm Carteri and me. I've got 15 cabins left to sell to Rider fans! All the details are available by clicking here:
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE