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Monday, June 27, 2016

THE MONDAY MORNING GOALIE

It's Coming
FINALLY

REGINA -- After one of the most tumultous off-seasons in the 106-year history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, that's now behind us and it's finally time to start playing football.  For real.

It starts Thursday night when the Roughriders open the 2016 regular season at home to the Toronto Argonauts in Week 2 of CFL action (8:00 pm Sask Time, TSN, CKRM Rider Radio Network).

Everybody knows by now what the franchise went through in 2015:  a 3-15 season, the first-ever mid-season double firings of a Coach and a GM, the subsequent hiring of the first-ever dual role Head Coach/GM (Chris Jones) on December 7, and then a complete and thorough overhaul of the roster which included bidding adieu to legendary players Weston Dressler, John Chick and Chris Getzlaf.

After 30 free agent tryout camps across the U.S. this winter, a spring minicamp in Florida, three weeks of training camp in Saskatoon and an 0-2 preseason, the next step of the journey is regular season game action.

And Chris Jones and company continue to tinker with their roster as they go, adding a pair of quarterbacks (G.J. Kinne and Bryant Moniz) over the weekend as well as former Carolina Panthers receiver Armanti Edwards, who was eye-popping in Sunday's first "official" team practice of the year.

"It means we'll always be on the lookout for the next people that we feel like we need to win football games," Jones said of the most-recent roster moves.  "That's it.  We're never going to be resting on our laurels, let's say.  We're trying to find the right ingredients to win games.  There's no ulterior motives."

Jones has the highest winning percentage (.722) of any active CFL coach and his track record of success is just as much of a trademark as his long-sleeved, buttoned up black shirts.  The Rider Nation seems willing to be patient with the rebuild knowing Jones' history of success will ultimately follow him to the 306.

The only lingering question is:  How long will it take?  And will they have it together in time for Thursday's season-opener?

"That's the magic question," surmised Carm Carteri, a former Roughriders linebacker who's entering his 28th season as the club's radio colour commentator.  "I'm not sure how this team's going to react.  I'm hoping they'll be able to react well.  You know Chris Jones will have them coached up but what surprised me is they had five days off during the bye week, right after training camp.

"Having said that they had a great first day on the field on Sunday and have three more good work days before the game.  They're gonna be alright.  Do I think they'll win?  I'm more worried about the Argos.  They got embarrassed at home (42-20 by Hamilton) in Week 1 so they're going to come in here fired up.  The Riders are going to have to be at their best."

Of that, there is no doubt.  But is their best - at this point - going to be good enough?

We're going to find out Thursday night.

Meanwhile perhaps the final distasteful remnants of the 2015 season were buried last week at the club's Annual General Meeting when team President Craig Reynolds announced a $4.3-million loss before franchise shareholders.

Many Rider fans have asked me how badly that reflects on the club but to be honest, I don't really know.  So for that answer I went to former Roughriders President Tom Shepherd who knows his way around a balance sheet and has experienced firsthand the darkest days this franchise has ever had to offer.

"When you're looking deeply into the figures, some of that was one-time costs like writing off the rest of the cost of the two stadiums (old and new Mosaic Stadiums) and the contracts of last year's coach and general manager," Shepherd explained.  "It sort of adds to the loss, and it really is a loss because the money is gone, but it's not a loss that will be repeated.  On the football part of the operations, it was probably close to a million dollars that they lost, not the $4.3-million because they were one-time costs like I said.  All those seats they put in for the Grey Cup, the costs of the contracts of the coach and GM, instead of writing that off over a whole bunch of years, they got rid of it all on the books for 2015 and that increased the losses tremendously.

"Any loss is bad, but it's understandable that they did that sort of thing with it.  Definitely losing costs money and for the first time ever, my Friends of the Riders Lottery was down significantly.  We still made $500,000 on the lottery, which was nice, but we've made $1-million annually for years.  What was the reason for that? I don't know scientifically but I think people took a little holiday from spending money.  I don't know, that's just how I feel."

Perhaps now 2015 truly is behind us.

And finally, thankfully, we can look ahead.

SUNDAY PRACTICE PHOTOS


It was a cool, cloudy day for the 90-minute workout.  The temperature hovered around 12 degrees Celsius but the rain stayed away...


A welcome sight -- #49 linebacker Jeff Knox Jr. back practicing.  The reigning Roughriders MVP, Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Rookie missed almost all of training camp in Saskatoon plus both preseason games ...


#10 Armanti Edwards ... For Coach Jones' comments on the former Carolina Panthers receiver, see the post below ...


A fan tracks down Rider great Ray Elgaard for an autograph in the stands on Sunday ...


New logo looks great ...

MORE

Jones talks to fans on Sunday
1 - KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES:  Before Sunday's practice even began, Rider boss Chris Jones called the fans together in the stands behind the Roughriders' bench for a preseason pep talk.  He told the hundred-or-so Rider Priders to think twice about what they post online about the practices they're fortunate to witness this season.  

Jones said that while with other teams, he habitually read practice reports on Rider message boards and social media and gleaned some very valuable information which was used to beat Saskatchewan the following week.  "Work with us," Jones was heard to say on Sunday.

2 - MY TAKE:  It was a great pre-emptive move by the always-calculating Jones.  My guess is that someone will post damaging intel at some point this season (maybe even this week) and the club could be forced to close a practice or two somewhere down the line.  If and when that ultimately happens, Jones will be able to say, "I told you so".  We recently heard a story from 2012 when Ticats coach George Cortez called Rider coach Corey Chamblin and told them their entire practice routine was posted on Riderfans.com. George certainly didn't have to do that, but that's the kind of guy he is.  Shortly thereafter, Rider practices on Day 3 became closed.

3 - A NEW MAN IN CHARGE:  While Darian remains the Face of the Franchise, it seems to me that Chris Jones is indeed the face of this year's team.  He's the one who fans have habitually asked me about since the club's return from training camp in Saskatoon.  The Tennessee product certainly has magnetizing leadership traits yet his players are still trying to figure him out.

"He's different," veteran receiver Rob Bagg said after Sunday's practice.  "I think we've had five coaches during my tenure and everyone of them has been different.  Everyone's had strengths and weaknesses.  I see nothing but good things so far and there's similiarities with our previous coach as well.  I'm excited about the direction.  I think it's just a fresh start that's needed for our entire club and it'll be good."

4 - A NEW MEDIA POLICY:  While the players practiced down below us on Sunday afternoon, the murmur amongst the media in the stands was the new locker room policy adopted by the CFL this off-season.  A gripe was put forward by the FRC (Football Reporters of Canada) to Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge about the league's lack of availability of players and thus a plan has been instituted of one day per week of open locker room access.

I'd like to point out that I wasn't part of the complaint letter written by the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones on behalf of the nation's football reporters.  I didn't hear about it until well after the fact.

Regardless, the new policy has already backfired somewhat.  Once Chris Jones eventually met with reporters on Sunday and the locker room was opened up, start quarterback Darian Durant was long gone.  Regina reporters scoured the locker room for recognizable faces and not many were present.  That led to the pack standing before Rob Bagg's locker for an extended period.

How many other big-name players will emulate Durant and vamoose before the vultures in the media descend on their sanctuary?  Time will tell.

The Roughriders did graciously ask me last week which day I'd like to see the locker room opened up but in truth, I told them it made no difference to me.  I thought things were going along just fine the way they were.

5 - STILL SLOW TO GET ON BOARD:  I probably shouldn't have, but I did anyways.  On Saturday while my family was shopping at downtown's Cornwall Centre, I sat in an armchair out front of the food court, sipping a coffee in a Rider bunnyhug and talking with any and all fans who happened by.

The interaction wasn't entirely positive.

One white-haired lady plopped herself down in the chair beside me and expressed her concerns about this year's club.

"I don't think we're going to have much of a team," she offered, looking as though she'd be more comfortable with a ball of yarn and knitting needles in her lap.  "I mean, they let Weston Dressler go because he was making too much money!  And then they gave all that money to the coach."

She didn't stop there.

"And Durant's getting too old," she continued.

Many fans expressed similar uneasiness.  It appears this club still has plenty of work to do in order to woo the fans back.

However the elderly lady did part on a nice note.  "You've got a really nice voice," she smiled as she strolled on her way.

6 - A ROUGH START FOR THE WEST:  The Roughriders have to be happy with the results of Week 1 of the 2016 CFL season.  Ottawa upset Edmonton, Montreal trounced Winnipeg and Calgary lost in BC meaning three Western teams lost.  "I hope most weeks turn out like that," quipped Chris Jones when asked on Sunday about western opponents falling in the opening week.

It was a rough outing for most in our CKRM pick pool as I took all home teams and came out 1-3 thanks to the Lions' win.  Week 1 served up more than its share of surprises.

7 - UNEDUCATED FANS IN TORONTO:  Fans at BMO Field for Hamilton's 42-20 win at Toronto Thursday evening were heard to boo CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge at the outset of the contest.  How many of them were even aware who the CFL Commissioner is?  However that's a long-standing tradition in sports.  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed in Buffalo at the start of Friday's NHL Draft.

However most puzzling was Argo fans booing Ticats receiver Chad Owens.  Were they not aware the Argonauts didn't want to re-sign Owens in free agency and leaving wasn't his choice?

Oh well.  When you buy tickets you can generally do whatever you want and at least a very nice crowd turned out to BMO Field for the rebirth of Argonauts football in Toronto.

8 - A ROUGH START IN WINNIPEG:  New Blue Bombers kicker Justin Medlock sailed Friday's opening kickoff against Montreal out-of-bounds at Investors Group Field which was bad enough, but CFL officials placed the ball on the Als 40-yard line for their opening series.  "Did they change that rule too?" groaned legendary Bomber play-by-play man Bob Irving on 680 CJOB.  Thankfully the officials correctly moved the ball up to the 45 after realizing their gaffe.

About 15 minutes later, the game was delayed for an hour due to lightning and a storm in the area.  The TSN announcers did a nice job tap-dancing to fill the delay.

In fact there was a spirited discussion on the TSN panel led by analysts Jock Climie and Milt Stegall who admonished Bomber receiver Weston Dressler for not "getting out of bounds" and taking a hellacious head hit which knocked him out of the game.

"Well some of us liked the contact," retorted Matt Dunigan, which caused Stegall to grimace and roll his eyes.  I would have loved for Milt to say what he was thinking in that moment.

Then, the Bombers proceeded to soil the sheets in the form of a 22-14 home loss to the Montreal Alouettes.   Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy failed to dazzle, even though he put up some decent fantasy stats (tossing for over 300 yards).

As Scruffy wrote on his blog this morning regarding Winnipeg, "They are who we thought they were".

If the Bombers are going to contend, they're going to need to right the ship in short order.

The CFL will need to upgrade their online stats as well, and the sooner the better.  With thousands of football fans across North America downloading DraftKings and betting on CFL games in Week 1, they were left wanting when it came to stats from the league's official website.

When I was writing a weekend story on Eskimos quarterback James Franklin, I was unable to find his stats from Edmonton's 31-21 preseason victory at Calgary.  I see this morning that these numbers are now there.

Hopefully the bugs have all been worked out.  I'd rather have credible statistics as a league than have all of our games shown on ESPN.  They are that important, which most of you already know.

The Week 1 statistical report was in my inbox when I awoke Monday morning so the boys are off to a good start, however it didn't have individual leaders.

9 - RADIO DEALINGS:   Prior to Saturday's home-opener, the Edmonton Eskimos announced a six-year extension to their broadcast deal with 630 CHED.  That puts to end the speculation I heard at Grey Cup that the Eskimos would be moving to TSN 1260 after this season.  ... Meanwhile if you were searching for CFL radio broadcasts on Sirius/XM satellite radio but came up empty-handed, it's because midweek games have been moved to Channel 171.  Weekend games will remain on Channel 167 Canada Talks.

10 - J.R.'S BACK IN TOWN:  The annual Jon Ryan Charity Golf Classic is back for another year and you'll be hearing lots about the Seattle Seahawks punter from Regina this week.  The Regina Rams and Sheldon Spartans alum is back in town with his new $4-million-per-year contract in the back pocket of his jeans.

There's a cabaret-style event on Wednesday evening followed by the golf tournament on Thursday, the same day as the Roughriders' season-opener.

------

THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! THANKS FOR READING,
RP
@rodpedersen

8 comments:

Paul Brown said...

three more sleeps until kick-off :-)

Don Mitchell said...

Great to see the comment section back!

Cannot wait for thursday night!

Jeremy Hodgins said...

That receiver was Dressler was it not lol

Rafal said...

This is exciting, cannot wait for the first game to start. Go Riders Go! It's nice to see Ray Elgaard back in Sask.

Jared Dumba said...

I hope we can all as fans sit back and take what's gonna most likely be a shaky first 8-12 games without calling for everyone's heads like we usually do. We have to allow this team and coaches to grow together and it won't be overnight. We may pull off a few wins or even more in the first 8-12 games but when we do it most likely won't be that pretty. Let's give em the time they need to grow and have their backs no matter what. That would be nice to see out of us-

Kayla Henderson said...

The game better be sold out on Thursday... C'mon Rider Nation!!!

Aaron Anderson said...

100% agreed on Kayla's comment about being sold out. We are trashing Toronto for not selling out BMO on Thur. night. We better sell out our home opener!!

Aaron Anderson

Craig Stein said...

Good move weeding out the keyboard Cowboys with making commenters sign in. They were entertaining at times though!