Here is an off-season Rider Report from a regular contributor to this blog, Glen Sorestad …
You are all probably wondering why there hasn’t been a Rider Report for a very long time – Nos. 38 and 39 are well over a month apart. No, I didn’t lose interest, though it still ended up being a losing season, like the season before. Actually I spent November travelling, so I missed the end of the season game and the playoffs and the Grey Cup itself. I would have liked to have seen the Riders/Stampeders game, but I couldn’t access it in south Texas where I was at the time. However, I was getting regular updates on the game by phone from a faithful Rider fan and friend in Saskatoon. It sounded as though the game was another ding-dong battle where the Riders just couldn’t close the deal and that brings us to the theme of this year-end report.
If we think of the 2011 Riders who ended the season at an abysmal 5-13 record and compare that team to the 2012 Chamblin-led team that finished at 8-10, it would seem that the Riders made very little progress this past season. After all, they finished a mere three games better. But I have a feeling that very few rational members of Rider Nation would seriously disagree with me when I say that the 2012 team is a much better team than the sad-sack outfit that finished the 2011 season. In fact, the 2012 edition of the Riders can not be so easily assessed on its won/loss record because, in fact, there were so many of the 10 losses that could as easily have been wins as losses. That the 8-10 record could as easily have been 10-8 was just a matter of being able to hold the leads in two of those games in order to reverse their record. But the Riders frittered away leads in a half-dozen games, so imagine how the team would have finished had they been able to protect the lead better. It could have been a 14-win season. Could have, but it wasn’t and because it was still a losing season, even though they made the playoffs, they still lost in an eerily similar fashion to the way they lost during the regular season.
Obviously thIs year’s team did not hold the lead in the close games and the Riders won just eight games. So someone had to be held accountable and we saw that Corey Chamblin was swift and decisive in pointing the finger at the three areas he deemed needed an improved coaching focus – two on defence, the D-line and LB corps, and one on offense, the O-line. The dismissals of Alex Smith, Mike Walker and Kris Sweet indicated that Chamblin was rightfully concerned with the play of his front seven on defense and concerned with the consistency of his O-line play as well. Someone had to pay the price for the Riders’ failure to do two things well in games last season: protect a lead and move the football offensively when they needed to protect the lead. Because of Smith’s long tenure with the team, it was no doubt a tough decision for the first year head coach, but clearly Chamblin understood what was needed to get better play from his front seven on defense. Kris Sweet’s situation was, at first glance, a bit of a puzzler because Sweet was seen as one of the top coaching recruits last year. If the reports are valid, it would appear that Sweet’s style of coaching was more suited to more experienced O-linemen and what he had to work with was, apart from Picard, Labatte and Best, a mostly very young and inexperienced talent pool. In Fulton, Heenan, Neufeld and Krausnick-Groh the Riders have the makings of a truly great offensive line for many years to come. Chamblin’s move would seem to recognize a need to have an O-line coach who is prepared to have patience with his young talents and to encourage them towards fulfilling their potential. The hiring of Richard Kent as a D-backs coach and Mike Sinclair as D-line coach both would appear to be good additions. Sinclair had a great five-year stint with the Alouettes and the Montreal D-line was always one of their strengths. What is a bit puzzling for me is that Richie Hall, while retaining the role of defensive co-ordinator, has been handed the extra responsibility of coaching the linebackers. I can only assume that Chamblin is convinced that Richie is capable of getting more out his LB corps than the departed Alex Smith could. Did Richie request this? Meanwhile, we await word on who will be taking over as the O-line coach, but we can certainly expect that Chamblin will choose another excellent teacher-coach who is known for being able to work with younger players.
So the axe has fallen for some of the coaches and no doubt some players will yet feel the effects of the team’s failures. However, Rider Nation can now be assured that the duo of Brendan Taman and Corey Chamblin are already in the process of gearing up for the 2013 season with only one goal in mind and that is to be one of the two teams who will be battling for the Grey Cup next November in Regina. This means that every position on the team has already been, or will soon be, evaluated as free agency approaches in February. The Riders desperately want to be in next year’s Grey Cup and they will be prepared to sign any free agent they believe will make their team stronger. The nucleus of this team is obviously quite solid, but there are positions which can be upgraded. I would not rule out the possibility of Taman engineering a trade to get a player or players Chamblin may see as highly desirable for the team. There will undoubtedly be a few choice rookie non-imports available in the draft again this year and we’ve already seen that where the Riders have a particular interest in a player, they are not afraid to do what is necessary in terms of trading up in their picks, in order to obtain the player they want. Sam Hurl is just such a draft pick.
Another raft of decisions either have been made or will have to be made regarding the 14 free agents on the Riders’ list. Some may already have been re-signed and will be announced at some point in the New Year, but others may not be offered new contracts, while players like Odell Willis and Tyron Brackenridge may try out for NFL teams in hope of landing more riches. Will the Riders offer new contracts to Rob Bagg who is coming off two serious injuries in successive seasons? Will McCullough and Hughes be encouraged to retire? Will Tearrius George (30)and Chris McKenzie (31) be offered new contracts? There are many questions about just how many of the 14 free agents the Riders will actively try to re-sign. More grist for the off-season mill.
However, what should fuel Rider fans through the six months leading up to training camp in Saskatoon in June is that the 2013 Grey Cup is in Regina and the Riders not only want to be there, they expect to be there. The goal for 2013 is very high. Every single decision with respect to coaches and players will be made in the light of the expectation that the Riders are going to be one of the teams that will be playing at home during the Grey Cup game next November. The onus and the burden of having to produce the Western champion rests squarely on Brendan Taman and Corey Chamblin. And that is precisely what is going to make this off-season one of the most interesting that Rider Nation has been through in a long while.
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