It almost feels like the Saskatchewan Roughriders don’t want you to look to closely at how their quarterbacking situation has not fallen into place for the 2016 season.
The sight of Vince Young talking about coming to the CFL and wanting to prove himself was great publicity for a league that does not seem willing or able to get people to talk about it in the offseason. If you blur your eyes and ignore the fact Young has been out of football for a few years it could seem like an exciting day for Rider football and by extension the CFL.
But, lost in the hype, was news that Rider quarterback Jake Waters, who the Riders got from Hamilton and who then broke his clavicle from a hit allowed by an offensive line that had all the consistency of jello, has retired to take a grad assistant job coaching at the University of Iowa. The Rider stable of quarterbacks now consists of Kevin Glenn, Brandon Bridge, GJ Kinne and Vince Young.
Losing Waters hurts because he might have had the natural leadership that quarterbacks need to lead to wins which is something this team, torn down to the roots and since rebuilt on a plan that will likely result in team with a strong defense, great receiving corps, perhaps a Canadian backfield and an offensive line of question marks and a quarterback situation that can best be described as unsettled could have used.
If the Riders did not pay any upfront money to Young, then the risk to the team is minimal, but perhaps the biggest question is the investment in public image. The Riders probably didn’t figure on losing Darian Durant, but keeping to their financial plans to have a healthy salary cap and flexability to move forced their hand probably a year before they wanted to move on from Durant.
Kevin Glenn version 3.0 is here as a game manager, mentor and perhaps an occasional starter. Working against Glenn is an ability to throw interceptions at inopportune times, but then again Ron Lancaster did the same and I still consider him the best quarterback in Rider history.
Kinne did not show much in his appearances at the end of the season against BC, but he did not look totally out of place. Brandon Bridge the Canadian quarterback is someone whose size and ability to move I like and he shows a competitive spirit that would probably help the team in the future.
I’m not sure Young will make it past the mini camp, never mind the training camp, but for someone who has been out of football for a number of years, expectations should be tempered for what to expect from Young. Besides the absence from football, Young is going to have to get used to a wider field and a a faster clock meaning he needs to know what is going on when he goes to the line of scrimmage or else he is going to get beat like a gong.
Young gave a great interview, but I sincerely hope the Riders have other quarterbacks they can shake out of the trees or else the Riders will set new records for liquor consumption at their new stadium. Replacing one aging quarterback with another doesn’t seem to be a way to build a team with “sustained excellence” which is what I recall the mandate being given to Chris Jones by the Rider board consisted of.
Now there are other possibilities that looking more promising like Joe Licata of the University of Buffalo who posed in a picture with Rider receiver Naaman Roosevelt at some football camp. Licata was at a Buffalo Bills rookie camp and then with the Cincinnati Bengals before being released.
The Riders also apparently put on their negotiation list Austin Davis, a former starter with the St. Louis Rams. If the Riders could get Davis, his style of play would be well suited to the CFL, but negotiation lists are more of a wish and a prayer than anything else.
The Riders did sign former Edmonton defensive lineman Eddie Steele, who is Canadian and will help with the ratio and more importantly the ability of the defensive line. The Riders efforts to boost their Canadian starter quality will help the team, but again the question has to be asked of who will pull the trigger on this offense?
If you look at Glenn and to some extent Young as bridges to future quarterback greatness, then the Riders should expect to set new alcohol consumption records this year as fans marvel at the offensive inconsistency and contrast it with the potential that is there. There are so many pieces that have to fall into place for this to work and there is no guarantee that they will work which makes this interesting.
One of the interesting things I read was how Chris Jones has turned the Riders into a wrestling bad guy. Whether it is playing with the idea of practice rosters or trying to hold an evaluation camp in Quebec under the noses of the Montreal Alouettes who protested, Jones is not interested in making friends and is always looking for the competitive edge.
However this has made some people think Jones has moved the Riders away from an idea of a team that plays fair, develops players who connect with the community and wins on a consistent basis. The idea of players who spent their careers with the Riders before retiring is changing due to the business of building teams under a salary cap. If you don’t provide good value for what you are being paid, you won’t be with the team.
This is leading to the appearance of the Riders taking on mercenary appearance, of players here for a year or so before going on to either the NFL or other teams. This has bothered probably a large section of fans and placing faith in Jones, considering the way the quarterback situation has been handled, is not inspiring confidence.
No one is expecting anything from Young being signed, never mind making the team, and the record of former NFL stars making it big in Canada is rather small. I remember when Vince Ferragamo was sacked repeatedly in his lone appearance in Taylor Field and when Mike McCullough broke Ricky Williams arm with the Argos.
So while Jones is probably good at the football stuff, although the 5-13 record raises a sarcastic flag, the bull in a china shop approach of the organization is enough to induce shudders in the most rabid fan. The Riders talent is probably a mile wide but perhaps not as deep as one would like considering the current situation at a variety of positions. If free agency doesn’t fill the holes, the draft is the next stage, but there is no guarantee there are players able to step on the roster and contribute on a regular basis.
From an organizational standpoint, it will be fascinating to see how the Riders unfold and evolve through the 2016 season and predicting either a Grey Cup or a 3-15 season is definitely premature. But what this past week showed is the possibility where in March, during an offseason where perhaps the biggest story was the hiring of Marc Trestman and Jim Popp in Toronto, the CFL and the Riders managed to get some prime time about a player signing.
With the CFL Week about to hit town in about 10 days, its good to remember that sometimes the CFL manages to do good despite themselves and maybe Rider fans want to keep that thought in mind as 2016 unfolds.
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