This morning’s positional review will be focused on a group that is drumming up some real excitement within the Rider organization. The group of receivers that have gathered here at the U of S are a mixture of speed, size, and savvy. What makes them dangerous, is that Jacques Chapdelaine seems to have a way to get the ball to each and every one of them. Never mind the 42 man travelling squad, it’s going to be tough to get a spot on any part of this team (practice roster, 46 man, IR etc etc) and the receivers are a group that may have to cut a couple of really talented guys loose. One things for sure, whomever is fortunate enough to don the Green and White for the season opener; they'll be part of an exciting bunch to watch.
One doesn't have to be a Rider fan to know who the core guys are here, and what they are capable of, so we won’t be looking into guys like Getz, Dress, or Bagg. Let’s analyze a few of the fresher faces in camp that are trying to make an impact, and secure themselves a spot on the squad. These guys are going to get a significant amount of reps on Saturday so you’ll all get a chance to watch them work at some point. Add this to your mental notes!
Ryan Smith (#2)
Smith is starting to become the story of camp now that the Riders are into their 2nd week, and for good reason. We talk all the time about pro football being a game of opportunity, and having to be ready for your moment; well Ryan Smith is definitely taking advantage of his window.
With Coach Chamblin giving W. Dressler some time to rest up, #2 was inserted into the open spot and has performed admirably. Last year when Smith was with the Riders, he didn’t receive a defined role in the offence that George Cortez was running. This year, with Jacques Chapdelaine, it looks as if the narrative will be that “we’ll find a way to use every skill that our players possess”. Smith fits great into that mindset because he’s comfortable playing from any spot that a receiver can line up at in this league. Smith has refined the way he runs his routes, and last years experience in Saskatchewan has adjusted the way he sees everything happening around him. There isn’t a notable process to him breaking down during a route and getting in and out of his cuts. Some receivers are to mechanical, and you can spot their tendencies when they’re about to break. With a year of confidence under his belt, the way he goes in and out of his routes has become a smooth and quick process. Some receivers are far too mechanical when processing their routes and it gives DBs easy keys to identify where his intentions are. He ran about a 6 yard comeback route in practice yesterday, and there were no pronounced changes in his motion as he was setting up to plant and cut. DBs are going to find it hard to key on aspects of his routes this, and he’s got great hands so that makes him even more of a challenge if they (the DBs) manage to keep in close contact.
In Ryan Smith the Saskatchewan Roughriders have a guy that they can utilize on Offence in a number of ways, and Coach Bobby Dyce will be able to lean on him for return production on Special Teams. The more one can do in the CFL translates to always being employable. He's played fast and confident all camp. It seems the 2nd year NDSU alum is primed for a breakout year.
Namaan Roosevelt (#82)
#82 comes into Saskatchewan with a fair amount of NFL experience, and because of that experience he’s shown to be one of the more “polished” newcomers in the group. During the mock game last Saturday Roosevelt was the most productive offensive player on the field, and part of the reason for that is he’s caught onto this playbook fairly quickly. Again, his fast learning curve is also a by-product of having to learn NFL offenses and being in a number of different spots before he showed up in Riderville.
What’s impressive? Roosevelt really understands the speed of the game and how he is able to adjust his speed during routes, in order to give his QB a larger target than normal. He doesn’t rush. Some younger receivers think that they need to be moving fast as lightening at all times on the field. Instead, Roosevelt shows the ability to gear down in order to stay open longer. That's a quality he shares with the rest of the veterans in this WR group, and shows that Roosevelt is on the right track.
A perfect complement to his route running IQ comes in the form of his speed. Namaan has a long deceptive stride which makes him a lot faster than he looks. What’s more, is that he can beat guys off the line that try and jam him in man coverage and runs great routes which could be a potential nightmare to some of the Defensive Backs the Riders will be facing this year.
Truthfully, he’s another pass catcher that has been lighting it up in Saskatoon, but Coach Chamblin always throws caution to the wind that they (the coaches) still need to see him and the rest of the guys when everything is live. Namaan Roosevelt has created a lot of momentum for himself as of late, if he continues to capitalize on his opportunities then it’s going to make the coach’s job even tougher when it comes to setting this phase of the roster for the regular season.
Greg Hardin (#84)
Another player from the endless pipeline that UND has become for the CFL! Greg Hardin landed in Saskatchewan amidst some pretty lofty expectations because of his collegiate statistics. Thus far he’s had a quiet camp, but flashes of potential here in Saskatoon are constantly on display. One of the plays of the entire camp was made by Greg Hardin during a red zone drill when he Randy Moss’d an unsuspecting DB with an unreal catch out of the air. The fact that he’s made plays when the ball has been thrown to him is great, however the volume of which he is getting those opportunities probably isn’t where he’d like it to be.
Hardin has adjusted to the CFL waggle and motions with ease. Last year we saw a few new faces really struggle to get the intricacies of the game down, so Hardin is a step ahead in that regard. It’s really not a matter of what he does right or wrong, the problem with Hardin right now is that there isn’t enough footballs to go around. Saturday will be huge for him, and hopefully he gets a few looks. He has very good straight line speed and can create when he has the ball in his hands. QBs are just going to have to find a way to get it to him.
Nic Demski (#9)
The Riders first round pick is going to be special, no doubt about it. He’s got all the tools. During camp the Riders have placed him in various positions on the field, and have devised ways to put the ball in his hands and let his 4.5 speed do the rest. They’ve also given him a number of different Special Teams opportunities. I’ve talked about his potential before. He’s an explosive runner with great vision; snaps in and out of his assigned routes, and can catch the rock over the middle in traffic…As if that wasn’t enough; Demski can also blow by a DB if they’re sitting on the back on their heals trying to confine him to certain zone spots. Jacques Chapdelaine has probably been chomping at the bit, waiting to work with a multi-purpose weapon such as Nic Demski.
What his caught my eye about the youngster is the way that the coaches have gone about assimilating him into the organization. They’ve given #9 bits and pieces of what he’s potentially going to do, but otherwise they’ve held back and let him get used to what it’s like to be a pro. He’s just as likely to be returning kicks as he is blocking on the Punt Cover unit. The staff isn’t going to give the #6 pick anything. He’s going to have to earn his reps and prove that he can be effective in ALL aspects of professional football. As fans you guys can expect to see Demski in a number of places on Saturday. Different formations, different personnel and different down and distance packages. He’s got the potential to be electrifying, and hopefully you guys will see that first hand.
Alex Pierzchalski (#85)
This kids got all the physical gifts in the world to be a successful player in this league and may be on the verge of having a break out year. At 6’5 and 220 lbs he’s impressive athletically, and rather quick for a big dude.
He’s going to have to be consistent. Alex has a chance to make an impact on this O but he’ll have to capitalize on whatever snap amount he gets during the exhibition games. He’s got solid hands, but has to show it every time the ball comes to him. The Riders are going to need him night in and night out in a lot of ways. There are some real match-up problems and personnel issues that a guy like Pierzchalski creates for teams; especially in the Red Zone. That’s why consistency is key here. Not only will Pierzchalski need to catch the ball in those tough areas just beyond the front 7 box (where the Dline & LBs line up) but he’ll need to become a great blocker and use his big frame to be able to seal the edges of a defense, in order to spring run plays that are devised to hit right outside the defensive end.
We stated that this group is going to have to leave some receivers home for Week 1, but #85 has a huge shot to remain in the plans simply because of the way he plays on Special Teams. Alex runs really well, and is an aggressive player when it comes to getting downfield, and getting in on tackles during kick cover teams. Rod and I had a chance to speak to Special Teams Coordinator, Bobby Dyce, on draft day and he eluded to the fact that they will lean on Pierzchalski for more production and leadership this season. What an opportunity!
If #85 can absorb the playbook and continue to take advantage of each rep that he gets, he’ll slowly start getting infused into the game plan more and more. That’s why consistency is such a huge deal for him. That trust is built up over a period of time. There is a lot of young talent on this Roughrider roster right now. Alex Pierzchalski is definitely one to watch.
Well there it is folks. A look into some of the major players in the battle for roster spots behind the entrenched core group of leaders. There are a couple other that should definitely be mentioned here as well. Alex Anthony #83 has been great. The 3rd year WR has come in and caught on well. Anthony is another good route runner who shows great bursts out of his cuts along with a great set of hands. I think he’s definitely in the mix for a roster push. Every time you look up, it seems like he’s making a catch or has gotten himself open. There is also young guys on the camp roster who may have to prove their worth primarily on special teams due to the sheer number of guys getting the ball. Melvin Abanwah (#78) and Alex Carroll(#87) both have return ability and may take advantage of careless Special Teams play in order to balance out the fact that there isn’t a lot of football to go around.
Whatever the case may be, this is a talent-laden group that won’t be able to keep everyone. The competition is fierce going into Saturday’s game and one or two plays may swing decisions in either direction. It’s going to be fun to watch.
Jump back in tomorrow with us when we review the Defensive Line group. TONS of talent in this unit, with great leadership. Can’t wait to get into it with you guys.