As the only undefeated team in the CFL, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have set the bar of excellence
this season. Although the season is still in its infancy, the Riders
look to have all the pieces in place for a Grey Cup run.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders were the CFL's most active team this off-season in free agency. General manager Brendan Taman was given the green light to spend the dollars required to assemble the team he wanted in order to challenge for the Grey Cup, which will be awarded in Regina on Nov. 24.
Still, some questions needed to be answered heading into this season. Did Taman spend the money wisely? Did he make too many changes? Would the veteran players that were added buy into the team concept, or would their egos get in the way?
As the only undefeated team in the CFL through four weeks, the Riders have set the bar of excellence this year. Although the season is still in its infancy, the Riders look to have all the pieces in place for a Grey Cup run.
I have to admit that I was not a fan of the decision to hire Corey Chamblin as the Riders' head coach in 2012, but I've become impressed with his ability to evaluate talent.
The player transaction that changed my impression of Chamblin last season was the decision to bring in linebackers Joe Lobendahn and Diamond Ferri. I felt that this move was extremely well thought out and perfectly addressed the pressing needs of a young Rider team.
Finishing with an 8-10 record meant there was plenty of work to be done if the Riders were to make a push for the Grey Cup in 2013. What surprised me the most was that the majority of changes occurred on defence, rather than on offence, where they had a passing attack that lacked creativity and finished the season only slightly better than the lowly Bombers.
Although the most publicized free-agent signing this off-season was the acquisition of Geroy Simon, the most valuable offensive addition was coordinator George Cortez. The fact that Saskatchewan has gone 4-0 to start the season with the same personnel as last year, except for two catches this week by Simon, points to the effectiveness of Cortez.
Simon is a great free-agent addition who will make the clutch catch and be the player that was desperately needed to compliment the play of Weston Dressler, but Cortez understands that an effective offence is rooted, more than ever, in an effective running game. Look around the league: Andrew Harris (Lions), Jon Cornish (Stampeders) and Kory Sheets (Riders) are the reason why their respective teams are having success offensively.
Why Chamblin decided to make a complete overhaul of his defence heading into the 2013 season was confusing to me. They finished the 2012 season with the second-best defence in the league, behind the B.C. Lions, and gave up only 22.7 points per game. Yet all but three positions were changed heading into the season.
The changes seem to be working, because the Riders have the best defence in the CFL and have given up only 16.9 points per game. What caught my attention watching the 37-0 routing of the Ticats this past week was the versatility of four players that man the middle of the field.
Linebacker Rey Williams has turned out to be an outstanding free-agent pick-up and is having an amazing year. With the additions of John Chick and Ricky Foley, the Riders are finally able to get pressure by adding just one linebacker to the rush, rather than two. And Williams possesses great field speed, which allows him to cover a ton of ground. Williams is currently sitting second in the CFL with five sacks and has 1 interception.
Tyron Brackenridge was rewarded with a new contract heading into the 2013 season in recognition of his play last year and has moved from linebacker to safety, where he has shown great vision of the field and will take receivers heads off if they dare to come through the middle.
Weldon Brown was another solid free-agent signing. Although undersized for a linebacker, Brown has shown that he has no issues with being physical and plays much larger than his physical stature.
Craig Butler has impressed me since he came into the league two years ago. Drafted 12th overall, he has continued to make plays every opportunity that he gets. His interception last week was a perfect example of his natural ability to make plays on the football. The fact that he had the sense to down the ball in the end zone after the interception is a great example of his awareness of game situations.
What is going to create problems for quarterbacks through the season is how versatile and interchangeable each of these players is. Defensive coordinator Richie Hall is a creative coach who will have a lot of fun rotating these players around and creating confusing looks for opposing offences.
So far, it looks like Saskatchewan has spent wisely.
Greg FrersGreg played in the Canadian Football League as an all-star safety for 10 years, and was a two-time Grey Cup champion with the Calgary Stampeders. He retired from the CFL after the 2002 season, and later joined CBC Sports as a football analyst. Greg currently lives in Vancouver with his wife Lisa and their three boys.
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