Will the Riders claw towards respectability in 2017? Yes.

Sports | by Gregory Beatty

Unless you’re a keener who grabs Planet S the moment it comes out, the Riders’ season-opener in Montreal on June 22 will likely be in the books by the time you read this. The home opener looms on July 1 against Winnipeg, and we’ve convened our panel of Earl Camembert, Ivanka Trudeau, Cal Corduroy and Ron Mexico to offer some thoughts on the year ahead.

You’ve spoken before about Rider GM/coach Chris Jones having the magic touch. Do you still have faith?

RON MEXICO I still have faith, but I’m getting worried the Rider curse will apply to him as well and keep his results mediocre. Win everywhere else, lay an egg here. Don Matthews is a great example of that. So was Roy Shivers.

IVANKA TRUDEAU I still have faith, but it hasn’t always been easy to keep the faith! Jones has to produce this year with an improved team. If they don’t make the playoffs, most fans will lose patience and he’ll be run out of town.

CAL CORDUROY My jury is still out. When Jones talks, he makes sense. But I need to see marked improvement in the club. At the end of the day, it’s the results that count.

EARL CAMEMBERT I still have faith, but the pressure is on to produce or things could get messy in Riderville. I hope they didn’t re-tool the team over the last two years, then blow the QB situation because they didn’t want to pay Durant some money. The CFL, and pro football in general, is QB driven.

What part(s) of the team are you excited about?

RM I think our receiving corps will be fun to watch, and our defensive line, with Willie Jefferson, Davis Tull and Jonathan Newsome, should be pretty good. I also think our offensive line will be better. The draft pick O-linemen don’t look out of place, and Derek Dennis and Peter Dyakowski are good additions.

IT I’m excited about our receivers. Hopefully Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge will be good enough at QB to get them the ball. I also think our D-line will be good with Jefferson, Newsome and A.C. Leonard. Mostly, I’m excited about the new stadium! But the team needs to produce as fans won’t be distracted by shiny new Mosaic for long.

CC After last year, ANY part of the team that improves is reason to be excited. Like every team in the league, our receiving core is supposedly going to be top notch, our secondary should be good, and our defensive line should see marked improvement.

EC I’m excited about the O and D lines. Assuming everyone stays healthy, that will be the team’s strength — which is a good, since even though it’s a QB driven league, ultimately you win and lose in the trenches. In both exhibition games, the D-line had lots of pressure. On offense, the receivers are obviously good, but if you can’t protect the QB it doesn’t matter how good they are.

What position(s) concern you?

RM I don’t think we have a running back. Kienan LaFrance could be good, but he basically made his name off two big playoff games with Ottawa. I still agree with getting rid of Darian Durant, but I think our QBing will be the worst in the West. That’s not a good thing.

IT My biggest worry is the DBs — they didn’t look good in B.C., with the exception of Ed Gainey, although adding Jovon Johnson should help. Also, I have no idea what they’re planning for RB. Are they going to go National with LaFrance if/when he’s healthy? If not, I haven’t seen much from Cameron Marshall or Greg Morris, so I’m not sure why they released Anthony Allen. And I still have concerns about the O-line, but hopefully it is better with Brendon LaBatte and Josiah St. John back, and Dennis as our big free agent signing.

CC How can you not be concerned with QB? Kevin Glenn is a journeyman, but he’ll get us eight or nine wins. We’re going to need some other component of our game to step up to get to 10 to 12 wins. Let’s hope the special teams (maybe with Chad Owens) and defence can help make the difference.

EC For all the hoopla about how National linebacker Henoc Muamba is a ratio buster, I thought he was invisible in the B.C. game. Signing top draft pick Cameron Judge from UCLA is a plus, but he’s a year or two away from being able to really contribute on defense. The DBs are unsettled, but Jones historically seems to be able to find good cover guys. And if you can pressure the opponent’s QB, that makes the DBs look real good.

Heading into the season, what are your power-rankings?

RM West: Calgary, B.C., Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg. East: Ottawa, Hamilton, Montreal, Toronto.

IT I think the East is up for grabs. I’ll predict Ottawa and Hamilton will be on top, then Montreal (as long as Durant stays healthy) and Toronto last (GM Jim Popp and Head Coach Marc Trestman will need more time).

I do think the Riders will be better than last year. But I can’t see how they will finish ahead of Calgary, B.C. or Edmonton (in that order). So I’m thinking the Riders will be fourth in the West, but that will be good enough for a crossover playoff spot. That leaves Winnipeg last.

CC Calgary, B.C., Edmonton/Sask. in a dead heat, Winnipeg in the basement. In the East, Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto.

EC I think B.C. is the class of the West, followed by Calgary, Sask., Edmonton and Winnipeg.  Edmonton is on the way down, and Winnipeg was going to can coach Mike O’Shea, but he scraped out enough close games to save his job. It won’t go that way two years in a row. I predict Hamilton will win the East if Zach Collaros stays on his feet, with Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal following in that order. Montreal brings up the rear because Darian will be hurt by the fourth game, and they have no plan B as far as I can see.

CFL commissioner Jeffery Orridge steps down June 30. Care to comment on his tenure, and who should replace him?

RM Very unremarkable tenure. Seems to have been very unpopular in a position which shouldn’t really get you disliked. Next commissioner should be former Regina Mayor Doug Archer or former MLA Keith Goulet.

IT I met Mr. Orridge twice, and while he seemed to be a smart man, I don’t think he had the vision, visibility or strong enough personality to command this thankless job. Can I request Mark Cohon back? That man is so charismatic and seemed to be able to handle the team governors. I suspect he’s not interested in returning, though. How about Pinball Clemons? Another man who oozes charm and energy. Or maybe it’s time for a female commissioner? It is 2017, after all! How do I apply?

CC This is a turkey shoot of the highest order. B.C. owner David Braley thinks he runs the league. Toronto is a mess. What was once a French-friendly team in Montreal has faded. And Orridge was totally the wrong guy. I think the bigger question is… who WANTS the job? The name bouncing around is Pinball, but I wonder whether even he can find success without going tilt (ha-ha!).

EC Orridge’s tenure was pretty vanilla, although I will give him credit for CFL Week which we saw in Regina in March. I think he let the Toronto situation get away from him, but I don’t how much of that lies at his feet since Toronto is full of knobs who think they should have an NFL team. If you want a smiley guy for commissioner who will help you in Toronto, Clemons is a guy to consider. But you need more than a cheerleader. You need someone who can foster the connection with TSN, since quite a bit of league money comes from TV revenue. And they need to grow the game with young people since the fan base is getting long in the tooth. ❧