Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

I was going to post about the 'Riders' offseason...until Stephen LaRose said pretty much everything I planned to say. So instead, I'll stick to pointing out where I'd question or clarify LaRose's take.

Simply put, I think he's right to compare the current 'Rider team to the 1976 version as a needlessly old group assembled with too little regard for the team's longer-term development. But I also think that the current roster is closer to 1976 than 1977: with one important caveat, the veterans aren't so far over the hill that the team figures to suffer.

And indeed, there's still at least some room for improvement over last season. The offense has plenty of weapons if the offensive line stays healthy and develops together (as I don't see Patrick Neufeld being anything more than a backup if a unit of Fulton/LaBatte/Picard/Best/Heenan plays to its potential), and the defence has far more playmakers than last year's version if John Chick and Ricky Foley have anything left in the tank.

With that in mind, I'd place the 'Riders' expected record - given fairly good health - around 10-8 (with plenty of early wins and a few more late losses). But that may not lead the 'Riders to continue the trend of teams making and winning the Grey Cup at home, particularly if the veterans wear down over the course of the season.

And the 'Riders are facing some ugly risks further down their depth chart. The biggest problem with filling out one's roster by thumbing through past CFL yearbooks is that there are few young players with any prospect of stepping into a bigger role to replace anybody who gets hurt (with the receiver position looking like the lone exception). Darian Durant's health is an absolute must for any 'Rider hopes; Neufeld may not be a part of the ideal offensive line, but without him the team has no margin for error with its remaining unit; an already-small defensive line could reach a critical point with a single injury to Keith Shologan or Tearrius George; and the linebacking corps is comprised almost entirely of players who have washed out elsewhere.

Now, if there's a rational strategy to be pursued with the current roster, it might well involve overpaying some veterans early, being prepared to trade or cut anybody who doesn't play up to his past peak level in the first few weeks, and encouraging the remaining vets to mentor a wave of new players around mid-season to set the 'Riders up for both a playoff drive and seasons to come. But given Brendan Taman's preference for pricey vets and lack of focus on player development, the plan instead seems to be to ride the new arrivals as far as possible - with no backup plan in sight.

That might well lead to the type of panic trade feared by LaRose - but a precarious cap situation figures to limit how many more vets the 'Riders can take on during the season. Which means that the best hope may be for the team's new imports to join the front office in failing to notice that it's no longer the late aughts - and stay healthy and productive accordingly.

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