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Thursday, December 7, 2017


Chris Jones has become the face of Canada's Team
One of the highlights of my year is going on the SportsCage/Marlin Travel Ultimate Sports Trip right after the CFL season. We host 60 SportsCage listeners and Rider fans annually on an NHL/NFL trip to a sun destination. Of course these sports fans come from all across Saskatchewan, and passionately follow Canada's Team.

This year we're in Los Angeles and this week I've tried to get around and visit with most everyone on the trip and answer their questions about the Green & White. Here's what's on their minds:

1 - WHO WILL QB THE RIDERS NEXT YEAR?: Isn't that the $64-million question? That's impossible to answer because at this point, even the Roughriders don't know. Sure they have Kevin Glenn under contract and are in contract talks with pending free agent Brandon Bridge, but if Chris Jones was entirely sold on Bridge as "The Next One", he would've started him by now. Obviously it's going to be an incredibly head-spinning off-season but when the game of Musical Chairs stops, my hunch is that Zach Collaros will be sitting on the Rider chair. That's with zero inside information, but it's the feeling I'm getting.

2 - WHERE WILL DURON CARTER PLAY IN 2018?: If it's in the CFL, it'll be with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. No doubt. The Riders' MVP has left Regina and told me his off-season includes stops in New York, Minnesota and South Florida, all to visit family. He's hoping to land an NFL opportunity but the very latest info I received from sources close to Carter is that there have been no offers yet. But it's only been 11 days since the end of the CFL season and things can change on a dime. But it has to be the right opportunity. Otherwise, Duron loves his situation in Saskatchewan and would be very happy to return. Chris Jones is getting more out of him than anyone ever has.

3 - WHAT HAPPENED IN THE EAST FINAL?: The better team won. Toronto outlasted Saskatchewan 25-21 at BMO Field and obviously went on to win the Grey Cup a week later. It only mildly eases the sting that the Riders lost to the eventual league champs. Despite the turnovers and the erratic QB play in that game, Saskatchewan was 23 seconds away from going to the Grey Cup themselves. They would have if only, as Chris Jones said, "The defense had shown up on that last Argo drive". We learned a lot of things in that game. As Luc Millinder said, "Don't be fooled by the bald head and the Dad bod. Ricky Ray's a killer". And, Complimentary Football doesn't work in the playoffs.

4 - HOW LONG WILL CHRIS JONES BE AROUND FOR?: He'll be around for a good, long time, if he has success with the Riders. We all know Jones and the Roughriders are working on a contract extension and that seems to suit the fans just fine. Jones and I have had multiple discussions about his future and in each case, he mentions he only wants to win here. The future will take care of itself after that.

5 - WHO'S THE FACE OF THE RIDERS RIGHT NOW?: Chris Jones, Chris Jones and Chris Jones. I was in a Regina inner city school earlier this week visiting with the Grade 7s and their first three questions were all about the enigmatic Head Coach & GM of the Roughriders. "Do you know Chris Jones?", "Do you work with Chris Jones?" and "Do you like Chris Jones?" The answers were yes, yes and yes. The kids didn't ask once about Duron Carter, or Brandon Bridge or anyone else. Perhaps their infatuation with Jones is because he's on the supper news every night. I don't know. At Grey Cup, everyone was asking where he was. (I don't believe he went to Ottawa, but I could be wrong). Fans are warming up to Jones more and more, and that's only good news for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

6 - HOW DID YOU NAIL THE 10-WIN PREDICTION?: That was an easy one. I looked at the Patriots under Bill Belichick and saw they had 5 wins in his first year in 2000 and shot to 11 wins in 2001 in Year 2. I felt I'd be put in a straightjacket if I predicted 11 wins for the Riders in 2017 so I backed off and went with 10. Voila! As far as a prediction for 2018 goes, let's wait awhile on that.

7 - WILL THEY EVER PUT A ROOF ON MOSAIC STADIUM?: No. So stop asking. Seriously though, to quote Gary Etcheverry, "Never's a long time". It could happen, but there are absolutely no plans on the horizon to do that. And if they did, immediately fans would be bitching about being inside on a hot summer day. If you haven't noticed, Saskatchewan people are notorious complainers. Actually, to a fault. So the powers-that-be simply have to block out the noise and forge ahead. It's the nicest stadium in the CFL, and one of the nicest on the continent. Let's celebrate what it IS rather than gripe about what it ISN'T.

8 - WHO'S THE TOP PRIORITY FREE AGENT?: Great question, but tough to answer. If you asked each different position coach who the #1 FA is, you'd probably get a different answer each time. But if you're asking ME, I'd say Willie Jefferson. I maintain he was actually the Riders Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2017 and several of his coaches agree. Ed Gainey was spectacular too, but Willie affected games on a week-in, week-out basis. reports the Riders and Jefferson have already agreed to terms on a new deal and if that's the case, it's an early Christmas gift for everybody.

9 - WILL CHRIS GETZLAF BE BACK IN 2018?: Again, too early to tell but obviously we're all hoping so. The thing with the 34-year old Regina product is that, like most star players, he's going to play until he's told his services are no longer required. He got onto the roster for the 2017 CFL Eastern Semifinal simply because he knew the playbook so well, is reliable, was healthy, and was ready at a second's notice. Some of the other young Canadian receivers on the roster couldn't say the same thing. Yes, Chris has had a Hall of Fame career. No doubt. But what's gotten him to that level is work ethic and intelligence as much as it was raw talent.

10 - WILL ALL THE COACHES BE BACK?: There's no reason to think otherwise. In fact Chris Jones told us the only reason anyone would not come back is because they had the chance to advance their career somewhere else. Jones' rule is that he'll never block one of his staff from moving up. The loyalty on this staff is as admirable as it is fierce. I've had several assistant coaches wonder about the questions Jones faces from the media daily. "Do these guys actually think they know more than Jones? Because they don't. He's been around a bit." It's fun to watch how they work.

Always watching. Always listening.