Saturday, 4 June 2016

An Important Shift in Focus

The Green and White scrimmage took place yesterday in the PRISTINE Gordie Howe Bowl, which is the home of the Hilltops and Saskatoon Minor Football. 

It was the perfect day for football and for the first time ever, the Saskatchewan Roughriders got to set the table for another professional sports team in this province as the Riders hit the field right before the Saskatchewan Rush went out in front of a sold out Sasktel Place and won their 2nd straight NLL Championship.  #BALLERS


There was a different feel to the mock-game on Sunday.  Instead of the giddy excitement that I’m used to encountering during every Saskatchewan Roughrider game, or event, I felt like SMF Field was saturated with curiosity more than anything.  Now that I think about it I don’t know why I expected anything less.


To be perfectly honest with you guys, yesterday’s scrimmage was indicative of the journey that this team is going to face throughout the early stages of 2016.  There’s going to be some obstacles that this squad will have to overcome, however there is a ton of raw talent on this roster.  It’s going to be up to Chris Jones, and the leaders in the locker room to find a way to maneuver through the early turbulence that should be expected from a team that features A TON of new personalities.  It’s a tough dynamic to be in.  Dan Plaster and I spoke with Rob Baggvery early on during Training Camp (via and even one of the unquestioned leaders from the last few years implied that he was going to sit back a bit and let things play out a little bit.  


I appreciated when #6 made that remark.  Robbie gets it.  He knows that sometimes the leaders in the room aren’t the guys that do all the barking.  Sometimes the leaders need to get a sample size of what they’re working with in order to figure out ways to guide the group towards the concept of what a TRUE championship team is.


What fans saw at SMF Field was a team that still has a lot of individually gifted players.  Once they all start thinking as a unit, there’s no reason why this group shouldn’t be as competitive as any other of the 8 teams in the CFL.


The first two drives of the game speaks to the idea above, as the Green and White collected 5 penalties; most of them being discipline issues like OFFSIDE and PROCEDURE calls.  The composure that makes up a COHESIVE UNIT still needs to be developed in this group, and to put things into a #ProPerspective, it’s still only the first week of camp. 


As one looks at the day as a whole there were all sorts of missed assignments, timing issues, and penalties.  Chris Jones even voiced his displeasure with the effort, and rightfully so, these are matters that have been notable over the last couple of days.


It’s important to recognize here that just because the Head Coach and GM was visibly upset at the conclusion of the day doesn’t mean that Chris Jones and his staff will make wholesale changes to the way things are being done.  One also needs to understand that professional sports is all about dealing with adversity and if there’s any coaching staff that knows what needs to be done in this situations, it’s this one.


Nothing drastic though.  That doesn’t seem like the style of this staff anyway.  In order to establish a philosophy and create all the dynamics that need to be present, the methodologies have to remain consistent.  So far this training camp has been demanding and competitive.  When the staff and players watch this film, they need to attack with the same demand.  THE CULTURE IS THE CULTURE.  There’s no coddling involved.


Day 7 was the first “official” look at the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders for many fans but for the guys in the locker room, it was a point in time to gauge where the team is at. 


The overall consensus amongst the players is probably that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and that actually may be the first step in the right direction!


If there is a recognition by the majority of the guys in the locker room that this team needs to be better, that represents a SHIFT IN FOCUS from “I” to “We” and it’s a watershed moment for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  The early phases of Training Camp can't help but zero in on individual performance with all that is required through installation and expectation.

Now, this doesn’t change the fact that this staff is going to make cuts and each guy is still in the job interview process, however if the players understand that each penalty or error during Sundays mock-game affected THE TEAM more than the individual, the Green and White are headed in the right direction.


At the conclusion of the first week of Training Camp the Riders have gotten a lot accomplished.  Two of those things are foundational requirements.  Saskatchewan has established a cultural expectation based on competition, and they’ve recognized that in order to have any shot at success, they’ll need to do it together.


I’ll use quote that Assistant GM John Murphy used during the State of Ridernation forum that I was involved in prior to Sunday’s on-field proceedings,


“It’s not about the name that’s on the back of your jersey.  It’s all about the name on the FRONT.”



Here’s some additional thoughts regarding yesterday’s Mock-Game.


• Just when things were getting comfortable at the FB spot, Levi Steinhauer has injected some serious competition into that position.  Since moving “the BIG Ginger” to FB, Levi has demonstrated that he can be an effective and physical blocker while also possessing a good set of hands in order to catch the rock.  He played well during Sunday’s competition, and because he plays Special Teams so well he may be positioning himself for a complete change in order to be on the roster when the regular season open up.  Kudos to Steinhauer for not only moving over, but for catching on to the playbook and looking like he’s been at the TE/FB spot all his life!


• It getting pretty boring mentioning that Doubles to Roosevelt hooked up for another TD…NAAAAT


• Many of you know that I was going to be keeping a close eye on the Defensive Tackle positions.  I couldn’t help but notice Ino Vitale (#91) and not just because he’s an absolute monster of a man.  Vitale played well.  He’s got the body type of a Nose Guard and his performance displayed all the qualities of a good 1-tech.  The Olinestruggled to knock him off the ball during run calls and it equated to Vitale being on the other side of the Line of Scrimmage quite a bit.  Seeing a Defensive Tackle in the backfield on occasion was just what the doctor ordered for the group coached by former All-Star Ed Phillion.  I’d love to be able to sit in on those film sessions, especially the one for this mock-game.  Despite Vitale’s occasional bursts the interior DTs still had problems collapsing the pocket and taking away space for a QB to operate in the pocket.  I don’t want to take away from the job the Offensive Line is doing this camp but I think there’s still an opportunity for someone to step into that interior and mark their territory.


• I loved the fact that Durant got the majority of the reps.  Despite him catching on to the Offence rather quickly, he still has to rep it consistently in order to find the spots in it that he can take advantage of.  As for the rest of the QBs I thought BJ Coleman played with the poise one would expect of a QB that has had significant PRO experience.  The advantage that Coleman has over his fellow Tennessee-Chattanooga Alum Jacob Huesman, and maybe even Brett Smith is that he understands the PROCESS of training camp.  One doesn’t need to come out every practise and be throwing TDs left, right, and centre (even though it helps).  A QB needs to get every minute detail of the playbook down and develop chemistry with the players in his huddle.  I wasn’t surprised to see Coleman keep his eye down field and make efficient throws during his reps on Sunday.  He’s old enough to know when he has to perform, and when he has to take the time to get everything right.  Now he has to keep finding ways to get better.


• It didn’t look like Chris Jones threw called everything that has been installed defensively during this training camp, but what was signalled in was effective.  There were a ton of turnovers on Sunday which signal the continued development of Saskatchewan’s D.  For some reason I got the feeling that people were only attributing the takeaways to mistakes made on Offence.  #GiveTheDsomeLove


• Kalongi Kashama was in the face of QBs all day.  We’ve talked about him at length before but it’s getting harder and harder not to notice #93 every time there’s an opportunity to compete.  Not sure what he graded out assignment wise, but Kashama looked like one of the better Defensive Ends out there on Sunday which speaks volumes considering that Shawn Lemon and Jonothan Newsome also played well yesterday.  The DE group is beginning to show some impressive depth.  We’ve got to remember that Justin Capicciotti and Dylan Ainsworth will have a big role here once they get back from injury.







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