One of the most wonderful days of the year is finally almost here, the return of football.
A long, cold winter is over and it’s time for players across this country to hit the gridiron and begin the long path to the Grey Cup in November.
While there’s always excitement for every team’s first pre-season game, that excitement does generally wear off pretty quick once the action, or lack there of, begins. The football often isn’t great, but at least it’s football, and it’s a necessary evil in order to get ready for the real deal in a couple of weeks time.
The pre-season, while often boring, is important for veterans to get ready for the season and for the coaching staff to figure out who has what it takes to make the roster and who doesn’t.
From a fans perspective, there’s still reasons to watch, even if the outcome doesn’t really matter.
Here are five things to keep an eye on from a Rider perspective against the Calgary Stampeders.
A new era begins
It’s been a few years since we’ve had a new man at the helm of the Green and White. This game will be our first chance to see the Craig Dickenson Saskatchewan Roughriders with the lights on. Camp is easy, everyone is positive, the stories are all good, there’s no real pressure. Now, the real work begins. Now negatives can show up in and around your football team. This is the first of many tests for Dickenson as a head coach. Being a coordinator, you can often be out of the spotlight before and after games, Dickenson won’t have that luxury anymore.
It’s also our first view at how the team will look under Dickenson, teams often adopt the personality of their coaches and Dickenson is very different than Chris Jones. How will that translate on the field? Like him or not, Jones’ swagger definitely rubbed off on his players in a good way for 60 minutes every week.
The same goes for the rest of the staff, especially defensive coordinator Jason Shivers, who Jones said should get the job. He’s got some pretty big shoes to fill.
The single biggest question facing the Riders this season won’t be answered this week. Zach Collaros won’t be playing against Calgary. I don’t agree with the decision, given his numbers during the mock game and last season, I would’ve liked to have seen Collaros see a little bit of playing time. That said, I get it. The other guys need time, and when you only have two warm up games, this is how it needs to be done.
Can Cody Fajardo build off his mock game performance? Is he the answer off the bench that will be required at some point? Will David Watford take a step forward or is he on thin ice? What about Isaac Harker and Ty Gangi? Is there anything there?
Lots of questions around the Riders quarterbacks.
After the pivots, everyone is wondering about who those quarterbacks will be throwing to.
Names like Naaman Roosevelt, Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore are probably safe but will someone step up to make this group formidable again? Last year, the receivers certainly left a lot to be desired. K.D. Cannon has been getting some positive press out of Saskatoon, but we’ve seen this story before, can it translate into a game? The good news is Cannon isn’t a raw rookie in the CFL, after joining the team late last year.
Another positive story has been receiver Max Zimmerman, who gave up his teaching gig in Germany to chase his dream of playing professional football. It’s an easy story to root for, especially after someone infamously tweeted that he made a bad life choice.
Zimmerman made some plays during the mock game; how will he do during the real thing?
With a roster spot and practice roster spot up for grabs between four players, this will be interesting to watch.
This will be our first look at the Shivers defence, will it be a lot like the Jones defence? Or will it be something different?
What we do know is they’ve made some changes to be more of a traditionally strong defence by stacking the middle of the field. My gut tells me the defence could actually be even better this year, just in a different way.
All of these questions won’t be answered on Friday night, they might not be answered for weeks, but the picture will slowly start to become clear soon and we’ll figure out who the 2019 Riders are.