The Saskatchewan Roughriders season started a lot like their 2015 campaign started, with a loss. In this case, the loss doesn’t matter so much as what we saw on the field.
When the clock struck zero on the Maxtron at Mosaic Stadium what we learned over everything else is that rebuilding a 3-15 team takes time. The first two weeks of training camp are always a time filled with sunshine and rainbows, not only in Saskatchewan but basically across all sports. Players look great when playing against their teammates when the true physical nature of the game isn’t there yet. Reality arrives when team’s take to the field for the first time and for this group, reality isn’t all that pretty.
While it’s not totally fair to evaluate players on just one game as the sample size is simply too small, this is the reality of the CFL.
That’s not to say that when November rolls around that this team can’t be in the mix as football is about getting better every week, but the path to get there won’t be easy.
What we learned on offence
All eyes were on quarterbacks Brett Smith and B.J. Coleman to see which would take the lead in the race to be Darian Durant’s backup this season. If the race is underway, then both of them stalled out of the gate and are having trouble getting the engines going again. Most of Coleman’s 90 yards came on a 55-yard catch and run from receiver Rob Bagg. Smith cracked 100 yards passing but looked like he did in rookie camp last year when he was slow to make decisions. Neither of them looked like someone who could step in should something happen to Durant. At this point, the Riders better hope Durant won’t miss significant time this year.
While the quarterbacks didn’t look strong, they did get enough help up front. Last season, the offensive line left a lot to be desired. Based on this game, they could be a better group but it’s a long season and the vets will have to stay healthy.
Even though he made just the one catch, Bagg showed he was ready for the season showing a lot of energy and desire both during and after the play. Bagg also got a nice block from receiver Ricky Collins which should earn him some points from the coaching staff. Clarence Denmark showed some veteran poise coming back to save Smith, who under threw him, and created a touchdown in the process.
The running game didn’t have much of an impact in the first half but when the power returned in the second half, so did the ground game. Terrance Cobb and his 58 yards could be the new leader of the pack.
What we learned on defence
The biggest thing we saw from the defence against the Lions was a new attitude. There’s still plenty of work to be done but this won’t be the same defence we saw last year. There was plenty of pressure on Lions quarterbacks, even if they didn’t always get the sack. Tackling seemed crisper and stronger than we saw last year and there was a solid mix of blitz packages rather than the same few over and over.
Now the bad news, the depth isn’t there yet. To start the game, the defence looked fairly good, granted they did get to face Keith Price and not Johnathan Jennings or Travis Lulay. None the less, you can only stop the guy in front of you. Once Jones started mixing in a number of his newer, younger players, the defence started to struggle. It wasn’t 2015 bad but I’m sure Jones would expect more out of those players going forward.
Without seeing more of the game film, it’s more difficult to discuss who stood out but upon first watch, defensive lineman Markus White was noticeable in the interior. He was previously used as a defensive end.
Not surprisingly, with all of the mixing and matching of players, the special teams units could use some work, especially the return game. More often than not whoever was back there didn’t have much help after catching the ball.
Josh Bartel looks like a much better punter than he did a couple of years ago in Saskatchewan. It’s clear special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson wants him to focus on kicking the ball and not working on rolling out and other moves he used in 2014. Bartel has also kicked off once, something he didn’t do previously in the CFL.
Like clockwork, something seems to happen at Mosaic Stadium during either the first pre-season or regular season game. There’s been a string of thunderstorms, hailstorms and now a power outage over the years.
The new jerseys look pretty sharp on the field but it seems like the sleeves could be extended a little as lots of pads were popping out. Overall, they are an improvement over the previous look.