The Saskatchewan Roughriders have decided to go all-in on defence once again by reaching into the back of their fridge and grabbing a fresh, cold bottle of Sol. (Which is a Molson imported brand, so this lede is Rider approved.)
There’s no question that the heart beat of the Riders is their defence. It carried the team to a second place finish in the West last season and as it currently stands they might have to do it again if they hope to host another playoff game in what’s likely to be an ultra-competitive division.
By signing linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the Green and White have given themselves a much better shot at doing so.
It’s hard to imagine that the Riders defence could be any better than it was last season, but thanks to a couple of shrewd moves by new general manager Jeremy O’Day it just might be.
That’s not to say that the defence will be the same but what they’ve lost in playmaking and scoring ability, they’ve made up in other ways.
Last season, the defence was the pass rush led by freak of nature Willie Jefferson and veteran Charleston Hughes. With the addition of Micah Johnson, the return of Zack Evans and safety Mike Edem, who really came into his own last year and now Elimimian the power of the defence has shifted from the wings to the interior.
Some of the best defences we’ve ever seen in the world of football, their strength comes up the middle. The Riders were good there last year, but I think it’s safe to say they weren’t elite.
There were times, especially when Mic’hael Brooks was out of the line up (they literally had to draw Cory “Poop” Johnson out of Winnipeg for the playoffs with Brooks unavailable), when the Riders struggled to stop the run, especially against the Redblacks and the Bombers: teams that have strong offensive lines and run games. With Johnson and now Elimimian that shouldn’t happen. Of course injuries are always an issue, but it’s clear that’s the plan. Their pass defence remains strong but they should be even better against the run.
At his introductory news conference, Elimimian suggested that he would be willing to play WILL, but it’s pretty clear that the he should be the man in the middle. Canadian Cameron Judge showed last season that he’s ready for a bigger role in this defence in 2019. That leaves veteran Sam Hurl likely watching from the sidelines more and playing a key role on special teams, but he probably knew that coming into the season.
Off the field, Elimimian should help in the locker room as well to help with the ups and downs of the season, being a guy that’s been through it all.
It’s pretty hard to find any fault in the deal. Yes, he’s a little older but we’ve seen some linebackers in this league play well into their 30s.
The only thing I would have preferred to see is Elimimian signed through next season, as the Riders host the Grey Cup, but if things go well, they should be in a good position to re-sign him. You can basically consider this a one year trial with the potential for more.
Yes, agreeing with the addition one of the best linebackers in the league over the last number of years is hardly a hot take. That said, even the best players to ever play the game sometimes don’t mesh with certain schemes. Whether Elimimian fits in Saskatchewan has yet to be seen, but on paper he helps transforms the strength of the defence and that’s a good thing.