The Riders could be a good football team. But they aren’t yet.

What we have here is one of those good-news, bad-news situations for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Quarterback Darian Durant survived the team’s CFL opener, passed for 300 yards and ran a little, which is good news for a team that didn’t have him for basically the past one-and-a-half seasons because of torn tendons.

The bad news: Saskatchewan lost 30-17 to the visiting Toronto Argonauts in a game witnessed by 29,896 fans, about 3,000 short of capacity. The non-sellout was more of a surprise than the loss because this is the Farewell Season for venerable Mosaic Stadium, which was long known as Taylor Field. The game was played on the start of the Canada Day weekend, but it’s evident there’s some bitterness in Rider Nation as it waits to see if the team can rebound from last year’s 3-15 disaster.

Chris Jones was hired away from the Grey Cup-winning Edmonton Eskimos in the offseason to serve as Saskatchewan’s head coach, general manager, vice-president of football operations and defensive co-ordinator.

Jones’ rebuild has been so overwhelming that not one single starter returned to the season-opening defence while only five players (counting Durant) were holdovers from last year’s offence.

Saskatchewan’s 44-man roster had 35 newcomers on it, so really, did anyone expect a victory against an Argonauts team that was primed to avenge the home-opening loss they suffered while the Roughriders were waiting out an ill-timed bye week?

With their extra week of experience, the Argos opened the game more efficiently and took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. They led 21-10 at halftime after Toronto linebacker Matt Black recovered a fumbled third-down snap and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.

The snap was fumbled by new quarterback Bryant Moniz, one of a handful of players who joined the Riders after training camp ended.

Therein lies the problem: The Riders are tinkering with their lineup, trying to discover who can play with whom, while suffering from that inexperience.

A defensive guru, Jones got strong performances from his rebuilt linebacking corps and defensive end A.C. Leonard, who used to play wide receiver for the B.C. Lions. There were some breakdowns by defensive backs Johnnie Dixon and Buddy Jackson, specifically on a long touchdown pass from Argos quarterback Ricky Ray to Vidal Hazelton. Returning receiver Naaman Roosevelt and tailback Curtis Steele, a former Argo, showed flashes of compatibility with Durant.

Jones is convinced he has a “good football team.” He might be right. Just not yet.

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