The Easter Bunny Has Some Surprises for the Riders

March 24, 2016 - 2:32pm

The Saskatchewan Roughriders continued to provide glimpses of what kind of team they are looking to become with some interesting moves this week in the City that Rhymes with Fun.

Let’s get the most meaningless move out of the way first.

The Riders changed their logo eliminating the color silver, straightening of lines and the bottom of the S not as pronounced as before. To which a grateful Rider Nation yawned. Apparently this will play a role when the new look Riders unveil their Adidas designed jerseys either at the end of April or midway through May.

Considering the changes to the Rider roster, maybe new jerseys would be appropriate, but I have to admit, after buying a few of the game worn jerseys, Reebok makes a good product. Whether it looks good is open to interpretation, but the jerseys themselves are comfortable.

The out with the old trend continued as the Riders announced Keith Price (whose former retro jersey I bought) has signed with the BC Lions. Price from the University of Washington had a good US college career and is noted for his first pass going for a touchdown as a Rider, but to be honest, he never showed up at a training camp and seemed to get the system.

There are some fans who probably feel Price did not get a fair deal, and I probably wouldn’t argue, but I recorded the final Rider game against Montreal (John Chick’s and Weston Dressler’s last game…sigh) and Price had the start but did not capitalize on it. When Smith went in in the fourth quarter, he lit a fire under the team to force the game into overtime and then to a win.

Price never struck as being interested in being a Rider, preferring understandably to try his luck in the States. One could also argue the gong show that was the Rider coaching staff did not help matters, but I remember the late Ron Lancaster saying that there was one statistic to judge quarterbacks by and that was if they won.

Brett Smith did not win a lot, but he did win while Keith Price did not take advantage of his opportunity and signed with a team closer to home. I’m not worried about that because I have confidence in which Chris Jones and John Murphy will bring in to compete at quarterback.

One potential candidate is Ben Wilkerson of Alfred State College who at the time I am writing this column is trying out for the Riders. Wilkerson is originally out of Tennessee, so he will be familiar to fellow Tennessean Jones, and he is 6’3” and 22 lbs.

Another player getting a look is Mike Doherty, Buffalo State wide receiver. He’s 6’1” 205 lbs and has already had a Pro Day try out in front of a number of NFL teams. The Riders have been pretty good about keeping it low-key, but thankfully US Colleges believe in social media and supporting their players through public recognition.

Then the Riders signed Matt Walter, who was a free agent out of Calgary and was not resigned even though he came out of the University of Calgary. The Stampeders lost Jon Cornish to retirement, but signed Jerome Messam and apparently felt Walter had a chance to step up to claim the job, but other than a 100 yard plus performance against Saskatchewan, did not take that step.

This is an interesting signing for not just Walter as a running back, but he also plays special teams as well. The Riders are building up an arsenal of Canadian talent at the running back spot and if Walter turns out to be a utility type player like Neal Hughes, the Riders come out ahead.

This signing came after Winnipeg, big spenders in free agency, released defensive tackle Bryant Turner and wide receiver Clarence Denmark prior to their receiving bonuses just before training camp. It was floated the Riders might look at Turner to beef up their defensive line, but his price may be a bit high and the Riders are not done their due diligence in US free agent camps and seeing who escapes from the NFL draft undrafted.

This raises an interesting rumor at this point that the Riders have turned over approximately 80 per cent of their negotiation list from last year. The Riders have increased their scouting staff and have held a number of camps looking for particular players that fit the mode of what Chris Jones is trying to build.

If that rumor is true, and there is no way in hell the Riders would confirm or deny that, it shows how adrift the Riders were last year. Without a strong idea or plan of what kind of team you are going to be, then the result is nothing but a team that goes 3-15.

At this point, I would expect the Riders to draft an offensive lineman with their first overall pick, unless they can translate that pick into a couple of picks further on down the draft. Right now according to mock drafts you can find on CFL.ca, the Riders would go for Joshua St. John of Oklahoma.

The Riders may also be looking at converting Rory Connop, who the Riders drafted as a defensive tackle, over to the offensive line. His father Rod Connop was a hall of famer with the God Less Edmonton Eskimos and the Riders are looking to expand their depth on the offensive line and I think they are happy with their Canadian content on the defensive line.

As year drags along waiting for the NFL draft to determine the fate of a number of prominent Canadian university players, players like Walters will likely become available at more cap friendly prices, which means the Riders may be kicking the tires on some players we don’t have a clue about. But that is what makes the offseason fun.

And shame on TSN for ignoring the CFL. Go their website and give them heck. If the Rider fans lead the league, they can then force this network in a have not province respect the desire to see and hear more CFL news in the off-season. Seems to work for the NFL Channel.

 

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