What we learned in Riders pre-season loss to Esks

Fans of teams that lose in the pre-season often fall back on the old saying, “it’s only pre-season.”

There’s some truth to that statement as the outcomes of these games don’t matter. However, when you consider the fact the Riders have won just three games over the last calendar year, it’s a concerning trend. Whether it’s the pre-season or not, winning creates a good feeling in the room. It’s a feeling that’s been absent at Mosaic Stadium since Labour Day weekend in 2014.

What we learned on Saturday afternoon is what we learned last week: there’s still a long ways to go for this group on both sides of the ball. That was especially evident out of the gate when Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly shredded the Riders defence on the very first drive, including a 59 yard pass to Derel Walker on the very first play from scrimmage. Simply put, starters vs starters, the Riders were outmatched against the defending champs. As former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Greene once said, “they are who we thought they were.”

What we learned on offence

Perhaps the most important question that needed answering was how Darian Durant would hold up in his first game in a little under a year. The answer? Alright. He didn’t get hurt and showed mobility when he scrambled and was able to run for a first down in the second quarter. Durant played the entire first half, going 11/19 with 153 yards passing and two interceptions. The bad news is it took the offence until the second quarter to pick up their first, first down of the game. Without being able to see the game, it’s hard to say if that was because of some rust on Durant, the offence overall or some combination of both.

Durant will get better as he sees more time on the field, that there is no doubt. The guys behind him though? Yikes. Phillip Sims saw the first reps after Durant in the second half followed by B.J. Coleman and Brett Smith. Smith was yanked after his first play from scrimmage for not sticking to the called play, something he got away with often last year, the coaching staff is sending a message that improvising won’t be acceptable this year. Sims completed a 33 yard pass to Ricky Collins Jr., which was basically the only play of note any of the three made. There’s still no answers here.

A couple of receivers did stand out as Naaman Roosevelt and Collins Jr. both had at least 60 yards through the air. Roosevelt isn’t much of a surprise but Collins might have earned himself a job, he also showed he can help out in other ways when he threw a block for Rob Bagg last week.

Curtis Steele didn’t do much of anything to earn the starting running back job, at the same time, no one really pushed him out of the way either. This one may continue into the start of the regular season.

By the sounds of things, the offensive line didn’t perform as well as it did last week. Centre Dan Clark left the game with an injury, if he misses significant time, that could be a huge blow to the offence.

What we learned on defence

This section is admittedly hard to write without being able to watch the game. So much that happens defensively actually happens away from the play and it’s often the guys you don’t notice who might have had the best games.

That’s being said, Chris Jones may have found himself a gem in Kevin Francis. The receiver turned safety was chosen in this year’s supplemental draft and it looks like that third round pick might be worth it. Francis broke up a play early in the game before adding an interception later in the first half. The Riders were expected to go Canadian at safety, however, I don’t think any one expected a rookie receiver moved to the other side of the ball would be that guy. Francis made Dan West expendable and now he very likely could keep Graig Newman and Matt Webster off the field as well.

Linebacker Greg Jones had eight tackles and could be the guy the Riders have been looking for in the middle for the last few years.

Other thoughts

Nic Demski finally brought some explosiveness to the punt return game with 49 yards on two attempts.

We won’t get much of a read on the place kicking game after this one with just one field goal attempted. However, Josh Bartel again averaged over 40 yards a punt, rookie Quinn Van Gylswyk averaged 36.6 yards per boot. The Riders don’t have to cut one of their three kickers though as it’s always a good idea to have one on the practice roster, Van Gylswyk fits the bill there as a first year player and he can fill in for Bartel or Tyler Crapinga should something happen to either of them.

Hopefully the Eskimos enjoyed the bump in attendance by choosing not to stream this game. No matter the reason, in this day and age, not being able to see a football game at all is inexcusable. TSN has their reasons to not show every game but the CFL needs to step up in their absence.

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