Riderville Report June 13
By Greg Urbanoski
Before the first exhibition game against BC, most people were not expecting a win, but they were hoping for a competitive effort from the Riders.
With a lot of young players in the line-up, the Riders were anything but competitive as they fell 44-10 to the defending Grey Cup Champions.
But the purpose of pre-season is to evaluate players and the results were a mixed bag. The Rider offensive line, minus starters Chris Best and Brendon Labatte, looked like Swiss cheese against the BC starters. As substitutions came more into play, the Rider offensive line looked better and our back-ups may be closer to making a contribution on the o-line if they are inserted gradually.
At quarterback, Dew Willy moved around like a younger Darian Durant and got the Riders only TD on an outstanding catch by Jason Chery. Darian Durant was disappointing, overthrowing receivers but this is something that could be attributed to the offensive line. J.T. O’Sullivan looked stiff and Levi Brown may not have helped his cause of sticking to the roster, especially after throwing an interception returned for a touchdown.
I had almost forgotten how slow Durant starts games and if this continues, then the Riders will again be playing from behind. Which is not good when you are trying to break out of a 5-13 season and trying to demonstrate the team has turned things around?
At running back, Kory Sheets and Louis Rankin had some good runs and while Brandon West was ok, he did not help his cause with his running or ability to break tackles. Scott McHenry looked solid blocking.
The Riders kept to a base package and were out of their depth in dealing with a justifiably cocky Lion team. The Riders went deep, which would have been nice if they had some protection, and Justin Harper showed he belonged, along with Chery. With Sinorce Moss sitting back in Regina, the additional speed he shows will definitely help. Efrem Hill is definitely on a bubble as our receivers either didn’t get the match-ups they were looking for, or failed to make plays when called upon.
On defense, the Riders secondary is a work in progress. Tristan Jackson was burnt like toast a lot and was most effective in running after receivers. The aggressive approach on receivers being touted in camp was not evident against BC, but the defensive secondary did have some moments including Paul Woldu making a timely knock down, but what was disappointing was the lack of turnovers made by the defense, especially after the coaches were stressing turnovers in training camp.
It took a while for the Riders defensive line to show some pressure, and interestingly enough, it came after substitutions were made. Matt Williams played ok, but the player who may have helped his cause the most was Zach Evans, the junior player from the Regina Thunder, who saw his game time increase because of his play.
This was disappointing because BC was suffering on their offensive line which in theory should have meant the Riders could have at least hurried Travis Lulay or Mike Reilly when they went back to pass. While the Riders pass rush should be better next week against Calgary with Willis back in the line-up, one man does not a pass rush make.
Another player who made the most of his opportunity was Sam Hurl, who showed great hustle and should have had a sack. Whether Shomari Williams looked in place or out of place is an open question, because the only time I noticed him was on special teams. It would be nice if the Riders clarified whether they want Williams to be more of a run stopper or whether they are going to move him around to take advantage of his speed.
On special teams, the inability of the Riders to have an end lined up on field goal efforts took three points off the board. The return game looks to be adequate, and the kick coverage team is about the same level as last year.
Chris Milo did alright, and Chris Bodnar has a strong leg but after making a 41 yard field goal that was called back because of a lack of an end on the line, he missed a 47 yard field goal. Bodnar will likely be stashed on the practise roster unless he kicks out the lights punting against Calgary, which is possible because Bodnar has kicked at Taylor Field as a University of Regina Ram player.
Overall, while the score was disappointing, the Riders stuck to their game plan of evaluating players and there are depth players like Evans and Hurl that stood out and Woldu deserves an extended look at defensive back. The Riders running game may be better than expected after looking at a few practices and the receivers will be different and will require some time to gel effectively with Durant.
With the changes the Riders have made, time and patience will be crucial to allow this team to grow. The coaches stuck to their game plan and who did well will be clearer when the Riders make their first round of cuts on Saturday. Watching a game on TV is difficult because you can’t see what all the players are doing and you can’t see intangibles like positioning, hustle and keeping to their assignments and speed in reacting to the ball.
We’ll see that on Friday against Calgary and whether the players can continue to show they can develop and understand what the staff is trying to show them. If they don’t, then this may be a long season like last year.
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