Sunday, December 3, 2017
ABOU-MECHREK: LOOKING AHEAD TO THE 2018 ROUGHRIDERS
I appreciate all the great feedback since Rod has opened up this forum for me a few weeks ago. Much of that feedback has to do with next year, and now with the 2017 season officially over - including the spectacular conclusion to the 105th Grey Cup - I now feel comfortable talking about it.
Like most of you I believe an upgrade to the offensive line is toward the top of the wish list again this off season.
Chris Jones made a huge splash in free agency last offseason landing the biggest tuna out there - 2016 Offensive Lineman of the Year Derek Dennis - but long before Dennis’s name came across Jones’ desk he had traded for Bruce Campbell.
It took awhile for Campbell to get on the field, but once he did he was consistently the Riders' top lineman. His introduction into the starting lineup, in turn, bumped Denis down to Left Guard, and Brendon LaBatte into the center position for the injured Dan Clark. That gave the Riders their most formidable line of the season.
However, unless Chris Jones is considering playing three Americans across the offensive line ... AND Derek Dennis is willing to take a massive pay cut to line up at guard ... I do not see the 2016 lineman of the year in the mix during next season’s training camp.
Right Guard Peter Dykowski came into this year’s training camp to fill an enormous hole on the Rider O-line. Dykowski may have been the Riders most VALUABLE player this season, unfortunately for Peter, the CFL award is for the Most OUTSTANDING player, and that he was not.
It’s tough for me to be so critical of Peter because I am a fan, and I think our playing styles were very similar. I see him in the league next season, perhaps even with the Riders, but I see him as a 6th man where he can fill in for a handful of games if someone gets banged up, and bring veteran leadership to the group. He had a great first half to 2016, but whether it was an unannounced injury, or just father time catching up to this vet, as the season went on he got stiffer in his hips, and began reaching and lunging at opponents rather than throwing his punch which got him in trouble with some quicker pass rush moves.
I’m also interested to see what happens at the center position. I do not see an imminent need to replace Dan Clark, but the Riders recently offered 31-year old Brendan LaBatte a 4-year contract extension which leads me to believe there are plans to move him to center - a somewhat less physical position - in the not too distant future.
Whether it’s one or two guards the Green and White will be looking for this off season, I am sure Dariusz Blazek will get a fair look, but I imagine Jones will look to bring in at least one bigger name Canadian free agent to fill in the position.
Whether it’s Dan or Brendon snapping the ball, the bigger question seems to be to whom he will be snapping it to, and this question seems as big today as it was one year ago.
Kevin Glenn was brought in to win games and to mentor young quarterbacks, and he gets a Gold Star for the yeoman’s work he’s done in both arenas. But I am not convinced he will be back in 2018 - at least not as the unquestioned starter.
I know Jones has gone on the record and said otherwise, but I sometimes wonder what kind of answers we expect out of coaches when the media poses awkward questions. He might not know if KG will be back in 2018 or not, but it takes a special kind of jerk to tell a player through the media that his career might be over. Instead Jones takes the high road and answers the (sometimes unfair) questions as best as he is able to. CJ and KG will work out their direction behind closed doors and not in the media.
That being said, if the CFL version of Rodney Dangerfield (he gets no respect) asked for the contract that he’s worth, Jones and many of the other CFL GMs would look quickly in another direction. I can’t see KG asking to break the bank and if he is back next season it will need to be established early on that he is the back up.
The Riders need to move on and find their QB of the future, which will result in some inconsistencies and the temptation to put Kevin in the game. The team will need to work through these growing pains to ensure they have a battle-tested quarterback going into next year’s playoffs.
So if I have Kevin pencilled in as the back-up that means Brandon Bridge will start, right?
Bridge is a good quarterback, and the relationship he and Kevin brought from Montreal and continued to build in Saskatchewan worked well for the 2017 Riders. But! I don’t see Bridge as the starter in 2018 as the Riders contend for the Cup.
He grew a lot in the playing time he had this season, but I feel as though he was thrown into the game only when the QB was under siege and he was asked to run around and “make things happen” with his big arm and his all-world receiving corps.
I hope I am not being too critical when I say that there was very little evidence in 2017 that leads me to believe he will have the same success when he’s allowed to sit back in the pocket to read and pick apart opposing defenses like a starting quarterback is supposed to do.
Making it up on the fly worked in 2017, but what happens next season when teams game plan for his skillset instead of Kevin’s and sit back in zone coverage and wait for him to make a mistake?
There were times this season that I wished he’d simply throw the ball into the 3rd row for an incomplete pass rather than run around like a chicken without its head. Sure it’s fun to watch, and it even worked out more often than not, but that’s what we have running backs for. He needs to be the quarterback!
Now of course, it’s not a 2 horse race. Vernon Adams will be in the mix again, but the name that has been very conspicuous by its recent absence in Rideville is James Franklin.
12 months ago folks were so certain of his imminent arrival, and now - as his contract expires - we barely hear his name. Hmmmmm. I’m not a betting man, but I wonder what the odds are of an Edmonton Eskimo quarterback leading the Riders to the 2018 Grey Cup? If anyone finds out let me know at the email below.
I value your feedback at Mike.Abou-Mechrek@igprivatewealth.com
(Mike played 10 seasons in the CFL winning the Grey Cup in 2007 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. An Economist, Certified Financial Planner, Charter Life Underwriter, and Registered Retirement Consultant Mike runs his practice through IG Private Wealth Management with offices in Moose Jaw and Regina)