I would say welcome back everyone, but let's face it. Most of us have remained pretty active on here in the off-season. Did I enjoy the NHL playoffs? Sure. Do I enjoy watching basebell? Sure. But no matter what other sports I watch (don't ask me about basketball), there's nothing like Rider football for me, and like every year I can't wait till the season starts. The road to playing in the Grey Cup in Regina will be filled with all kinds of challenges and it starts in Edmonton this Saturday. Since these teams were on TV in the pre-season a combined 3 out of 4 game, I can't complain like I usually do about having to do week 1 blind! Here we go.
Expected starter: Riders - Darian Durant, Eskimos - Mike Reilly. It's gotten to the point where I don't really look at threads with "Durant" in the title. It's like the movie franchise that makes too many sequals. You know who the characters (posters) will be, you know how the plot (posts) will play out. Like the Matrix trilogy, there's no real satisfactory ending. All QBs will have peaks and valleys. The two things I've thought that Darian needs to get to the next step are to shallow out those valleys. Every QB has them but Durant's are really low when they occur. That and protect the football better. If working with George Cortez dosn't bring that out in him, nothing will; but I am confident it will happen. The battle for the starter job in Edmonton ended on the Matt Nichols injury. It's all up to Mike Reilly. Although I would love to see Edmonton's back-up get to play so that I can say "Straight out of Crompton" over and over this year. Reilly is considered the league's next one. He showed me in pre-season that he throws a good deep ball and has a rocket, considering he fired a ball deep to Cary Koch while running to his right. However, let's let him actually show it a season before praising him too much. Edge Riders
Expected starters: Riders - Kory Sheets, Eskimos - Hugh Charles. All indications are that Sheets will be a busy guy in the Rider offense, running and catching the ball, and that's fine by me. He runs the ball well and catches it well too. The only area of his game I have heard questioned at times is his blocking. I don't know whether to classify Jock Sanders as a RB or a receiver. He is a nice change of pace when replacing Sheets or a duel threat when they are both in together. Hugh Charles is similar to Sheets in that he catches the ball well too, but he's a level below Sheets imo. If John White is in the lineup for the Esks, he showed some nice explosiveness agaisnt the Lions. Edge Riders
Expected Starters: Riders - Dressler, Getzlaf, Bagg, Smith, Carr. Eskimos - Stamps Koch, Sweeney, Coehorn, Chambers, By waiting until now, I can take out the whole part I had written about what happnes if Fred Stamps is out. We already know that Simon is out, adding fuel to the fire for those who did not like that deal. We'll see if Smith and Getzlaf continue on with the solid preseasons they had. We also watch with baited breath to see if Rob Bagg is back. So Stamps is in the lineup and has been the Esks number 1 target the last few years. His biggest knock has been staying healthy. Remember the joke the NFL used to have for Cris Carter? Well Cary Koch was the CFL equivalent of that last year. All he did....was catch TDs. Isiah Sweeney looks like a dangerous speedster based on pre-season. Chambers and Coehorn should be better with more experience. Coehorn is going into his third year, and I think he's the guy likely to break out. Even
Expected starters: Riders T - Fulton, Heenan, G - Labatte, Best, C - Picard. Eskimos - T - Coleman, Louis, G - O'Donnell, Rottier, C - Hinse. I am guessing at the Eskmo tackles based on thair last depth chart. Both teams have question marks on the line. Lucky for the Riders, there's only on personal-wise with Heenan trying to learn to play tackle at the pro level on the fly. The rest of our line is solid with the only issue being they didn't perform up to their usual level in the pre-season. Depth at tackle is an issue. Edmonton has question marks all over, as we saw in our first pre-season game. It was bad enough that Kavis has already called them out publicly. Without really seeing theise guys more, not much more I can say. If you want a lot better o-line analysis than I can give, read Oldguard's stuff on the site and Elmer's blog. Edge Riders
Expected starters: Riders - E - Chick, Foley, T - Shologan, McElveen Eskimos - D - Howard, Willis, T - Laurent, Sewell. McElveen gets his chance to shine with the suspension to George. Although I listed the 4 starters for the Riders, from what we heard there will be a rotation. Who will be on it is what we don't know right now. It's going to be fun watching Chick and Foley come off the edge! This is a tough matchup for the Rider o-line. Howard is quick off the edge and Laurent is a monster in the middle. Lots of eyes will be on Willis this game. Look for him to be really jacked up to play against us. Edge Eskimos
Expected Staters: Riders - OLB - Butler, Brown, MLB - Williams. Eskimos - OLB - Hill, Munoz, MLB - Sherritt. Listing the Riders starters is a little tough right now. Based on what I am hearing we will go with the two DBs turned linebackers, epecially with Kromah out. Look for Sam Hurl to sub in a lot on passing situations. I am not a fan of having two defensive backs in the box. I guess the last time we did that, was 09 and 10 and we got to the Cup both years so I guess we wait and see. Rey Williams will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Sherritt is a tackling machine in Edmonton and coming off the defensive player of the year award. Munoz made a nice transiction from in the middle in a 3-4 to OLB last year. Edge Eskimos
Expected Starters: Riders - CB - Thomas, Harris, HB - Anderson, Maze S - Brackenridge. Eskimos - CB - Grymes, Young, HB - Thompson, Burnett, S - Perez. Little rewrite here as Maze playing halfback instead of corner totally caught me off-guard. The biggest personal surprise for me is Carlos Thomas beating out Eddie Russ for a job. I specifically remember using the term "training camp fodder" when Thomas was signed. Missed that one! Grymes and Young (Hamilton last year) are new comers to the Bomber secondary. You may have noticed Grymes in pre-season. He's the guy who looked like he had a giant rodent sticking out the back of his helmet. With Donovan Alexander out, Chez Pierre starts at safety. Yes, Chez Pierre is a defensive back in Edmonton, not a palce you hope your guys don't spend too much time in on St. Catherines strett in Montreal. Gryme and Young are replacing Rod Williams and Weldon Brown. The Esks are expecting bigger things from Joe Burnett this year and have moved him to short side corner. Edge Riders
Expected starters: Riders - Sanders. Eskimos - Burnett/ White. We all remember the big return by Tristan Jackson on the missed FG vs BC. He may not have scored a TD but Sanders showed to be a pretty dynamic returner last year and so far in pre-season. We've got Dressler and Ferri listed as the other returners on the roster. Burnett shared return time with Charles and Koch last year. The Esks have him and newcomer White listed as their returners this year. I think Sanders is the best returner in this game. Edge Riders
Expected starter: Riders - Milo. Eskimos - Shaw. Along with right tackle, the biggest issue in the pre-season for the Riders. There's no problem with Milo's leg strength to hit the long ones. We need him to find his stroke, and fast. Grant Shaw has one of the best young legs in this league. He'd better be good. Along with Chambers he is now the centerpiece of what the Esks got in return for Ricky Ray. Edge Eskimos
Expected starter: Riders - Schmidt. Eskimos - Shaw. If the Riders are indeed going with an import to do just punting and kickoffs, he'd better be dominant. I really think we could have got by with Milo and McKnight. Give Shaw the edge again here. One concern for me is that with Hughes and McCullough hurt, I believe we are missing both upbacks from last year. The Esks may bring pressure at our punter. Edge Eskimos
When the Riders have the ball
After a mostly pedestrian preseason with pretty unimaginative play-calling, we'll get to see more of what George Cortez will bring to the table. I get the idea that Cortez really recognizes the talent he has in Kory Sheets. I expect Sheets to get a lot of work this year. Now this week is going to be a tough one. The Esks will have a tough front and the Riders have found it hard to get a good push in the middle. In pre-season, most of Sheets's success came running outside. Look for more of the same Saturday. Look for a lot of motion from the receivers even in the running game to freeze the linebackers. Sheets did have success in all 3 games vs Edmonton last year so maybe running the ball with him won't be as tough as I think. Sanders may get some carries as well. We may also see some end around plays to a receiver like to Smith in the pre-season game. This will be one way to take some pressure off Heenan at tackle. Let him fire out as a run blocker.
I think we can have success against the Eskimo secondary if Darian has time to throw the ball. Heenan is in the spotlight, but let's hope that Fulton's game against Calgary was an abheration. I found the "question" by Etch in his preview about Dressler in Cortez's offense comical. I'm pretty sure George will keep Dressler the focal point of the offense. What I don't know is if he's going to run Dressler out of one spot or if he's going to move him around. Chris Thompson will draw the main assignment on Dressler. Marcell Young will be the half on Getzlaf. Becausse Grymes is on the wide side corner, it will be tough to try and pick on the new guy.
The key to any offensive success will be to keep that front 4 off Durant. Due to injuries to Hughes and Moore, if we go with the two TE set it will be McHenry and Stephenson to take on that role. We may use that a few time to get some extra hits on the Eskimos ends. That's one way to slow down the rush. Normally the screen pass is a great way to do it too but Sherritt has a knack of getting under the block and blowing up those plays. I think we will incorporate Sheets more on swing passes or getting him downfield. Sherritt is great at attacking the line of scrimmage, but i think Sheets can have success getting out in space on him. Look for a lot of quick hitting passes getting the ball out of Darian's hands fast to counter that rush too. I think I mentioned Odell Willis will be pretty fired up. He loves to guess snap counts and get a jump at the best of times. I'll bet we can get a few cheap 5 yards with a hard count.
When the Eskimos have the ball
Boy is this new look defense going to be interesting to watch. The Esks will have the same concern as the Riders, that is keeping our front four off Mike Reilly. I think either Coleman or Davis will stay on the roster to rotate with the starters. As much potential as Reilly has shown, he is a first time starter. He had some trouble when we got heat on him in the pre-season game. The Esks will probably try and get Hugh Charles going to test our smaller outside linebackers / defensive backs and to take pressure off Reilly. Rey Williams is going to have to be a big part of shutting down the run. He should benefit from the better line this year.
Fred Stamps should be the Esks go-to guy but keep in mind he and Reilly haven't played in a game together. Reilly may have as much chemistry with hsi other receivers at this point. Look for Anderson to see a lot of Stamps. I don't know if our philisophy will be to have Anderson folllow Stamps around or stay in his spot. The Esks in the past have moved Stamps around to get preferable matchups. Harris on Sweeney will be another good matchup. Harris is pretty aggressive from the small amount of time we have seen from him. The Esks will definitely take a shot or two to Sweeney over the top.
To be honest guys, this is hard to predict right now. This new Rider defense has a lot of moving parts, and I really don't know how it's gong to work. What I do know is that it sounds like we are going to be bringing pressure from all over the place. This should cause Reilly and his line some trouble in figuring out where the rush is coming from. I also expect our secondary to be a lot more aggressive than we have seen in the past with guys going for picks. If it's modelled after the Steeler D and it works, it will be fun to watch. Even though they are not listed in the starting lineup, look for Sam Hurl and Greg (Hello) Newman to get a lot of action on passing downs.
I think I heard that the Eskimos have 10-12 new starters this year. That's a lot of chance and it should take them some time to gel, and should work in the Riders favour tomorrow. Of course I am reminded of all the changes the Riders had in their lineup to start the year in 2012, but that didn't stop them from going into Hamilton and beating the doors off the Cats. The key for the Riders will be to not make the big mistake leading to the easy score. The Esks three TDs in the pre-season game were a result of a fumble returned all the way back, a muffed punt, and a corner biting on the pump and go. Don't give up the easy score, and I think the Riders prevail in this one. I am not expecting an easy game like some people are. I think it's going to be a hard fought defensive game, but with the Riders coming out on top.
My score: Roughriders 24 Eskimos 18
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