Our pundits prognosticate a potent 2018 season for team green

Rider Fan Forum | by Gregory Beatty

The CFL has bumped up the start of the season to give each team a third bye week. That’s good for the players but bad for this column, as we’re out of sync with the schedule now. After dropping a 35–12 decision in Edmonton on May 27, the Riders don’t play their home exhibition game until June 8 against Calgary. Then they open the regular season at home against Toronto on June 15.

That puts Ivanka Trudeau, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico (Cal Corduroy is on the suspended list after he failed to file his copy in time) at a distinct disadvantage in previewing the season, but they’ve gamely agreed to don their Rider garb and kick things off in style.

This is year three of the Chris Jones rebuild. Is the pressure on to deliver?

EARL CAMEMBERT I think Jones delivered last year actually. The Riders were in the East Final, had Toronto by the short ones, and lost at the end. They easily could’ve been in the Grey Cup against the choke artist Stampeders. Is the pressure on? It is every year. I believe Jones when he says the Riders have a good team.

IVANKA TRUDEAU Yes, the pressure is on. The Riders showed promise last year going 10–8 and making it to the East Final, but fans are hoping for even more this year. I think the expectation is at least a Grey Cup appearance, and I think Jones expects that from himself, his coaches and his players too.

RON MEXICO Not overly. They were 10–8 in year two of the regime, and that’s a reasonable record — not great, but reasonable. And the playoff performance was good. The standard of excellence should be consistently finishing first or second in your division. Jones can work here a long time with 10–8 records and cross-over playoff success. It’s not a very demanding fan base. I don’t see a ton of pressure unless the team totally tanks. However, I think they will continue to climb.

What areas of the team are strong?

Earl The receivers are up there with the best in the league. The D-line is a strength, especially with the signing of Canadian Zack Evans. RB Marcus Thigpen has been great whenever he’s played. He and Jerome Messam may be a perfect thunder and lightning combination. People may disagree, but I think the Riders have depth at QB too, and when you have depth at QB it’s a strength.

Ivanka The biggest strength is likely receiver with Duron Carter, Caleb Holley and Naaman Roosevelt. I think we have a good one-two QB situation with Zach Collaros (who is looking strong and healthy) and Brandon Bridge. I had been concerned about RB, but Zac Stacy is looking great, people have been talking up Tre Mason, we have Jerome Messam back, and we’ll have Thigpen after his two-game suspension. Our DBs and D-line (with the addition of Evans and Charleston Hughes) should be solid too.

Ron I think the strength of the team is the D-line. Willie Jefferson, Tobi Antigha, Eddie Steele, Charleston Hughes (still something left in the tank) and Zach Evans are solid, and the Canadians in that group (Steele and Evans) are more than adequate. Jefferson and Antigha may be poised for breakout years.

What areas of the team remain a concern?

Earl The jury (or Judge) is out on the linebacking. Sam Hurl is a potential Canadian starter, but Mexico tells me he was the worst rated LB in the league last year so that can’t be good.  Last year’s first-round draft pick Cameron Judge must be ready to play since Jones let Henoc Muamba go. I did see Judge crank someone in the Edmonton game, but doing that on a regular basis leads to injuries. I don’t think the DBs are a strength, but they do have Ed “Bob” Gainey, who was the best defensive player in the league last year for a stretch of about six games.

Ivanka I’m concerned about our O-line. It hasn’t been great the last while, and we don’t have Derek Dennis or Peter Dyakowski this year. Hopefully, Travis Bond lives up to his billing. Middle linebacker is a concern too. We lost Muamba, and I’m not convinced Hurl is the answer. Maybe Judge will step up?

Ron Linebacking is likely the Achilles heel… which is a pretty significant Achilles heel. Derrick Moncrief at Sam linebacker is the only one who impresses me, and Hurl in the middle scares me. I hope for the best from Collaros. He hasn’t been good for awhile now, which is not promising. How many turnarounds do you see from QBs after reeking for two years? However, when Collaros was good… he was really good, and I’m pulling for him because he seems like a nice guy.

Based on what you’ve seen so far, what are your CFL power rankings?

Earl Riders #1 in the West: If Collaros and Bridge get the job done, they’ll be tough. Calgary #2: Always good.  Always choke at the end. Edmonton #3: QB Mike Riley keeps them here. If he gets hurt, it’s curtains. B.C. #4: The shine on Wally’s car wax is pretty dull at this point. Winnipeg #5: They keep signing cast offs like receiver Adarius Bowman. That smacks of desperation.

In the East, Toronto #1: Head coach Marc Trestman and QB Ricky Ray are still too tough to beat. Ottawa #2: If QB Trevor Harris gets hurt, similar to Edmonton, they’re done. Hamilton #3: Maybe we’ll see Johnny Football a bunch this year. That would be okay. Montreal #4: Kavis Reed is the GM.  Enough said.

Ivanka It’s tough to predict anything from the first pre-season games, but based on last year and the changes teams made in the off-season, I’m thinking Toronto will lead the East, then Hamilton and Ottawa neck-and-neck for second, with Montreal last again. I also predict TSN announcers will say “Johnny Manziel” at least 20 times a game, regardless of whether Hamilton is playing or not.

In the West, I think it will be the Riders, Calgary and Edmonton fighting for first with B.C. and Winnipeg both struggling. Grey Cup will be Riders vs. Toronto with the good (green) guys winning!

Ron Edmonton #1 in the West: Losing Bowman and Brandon Zylstra at receiver hurts, but having the best player in the league (Mike Reilly) can take you a long way. Saskatchewan #2: The roster looks pretty good and Jones’ track record suggests this jump could be made. Calgary #3: I’d like to think that soiling themselves in the Grey Cup two years in a row will cause dissention and unrest. Winnipeg #4: Should be good enough for a cross-over playoff berth. B.C. #5: Flip a coin between them and Winnipeg

Toronto #1: Trestman knows what he’s doing, Ray is still good, and James Wilder is a real good running back. They should walk away with the East. Ottawa #2: Clearly the second best team in the East, and they have nice uniforms. Hamilton #3: I actually think Manziel will be successful. Diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder probably means his head is on straight. He could be dynamite. Will coach Jerry Glanville leave tickets for Elvis at the will call desk? Montreal #4: Circus.