The players up in Saskatoon are fighting with everything they have, all in an effort to get to the end of the tunnel that doesn’t even offer a guarantee.
All one gets if they come out on the other end of this deal is another day. It’s up to the fortunate few to turn each of those days into a career. Sometimes these careers last weeks; sometimes these careers last years.
That’s why the finality is brutal. One goes through this battle with about 70 other men that are in the same position. They form relationships through the struggle. One sacrifices his family and friends throughout this process and the only ones that truly understand the grind are the guys that share those meeting rooms and ice baths. Friendships start to form over 6am breakfasts and 530am ankle tapings. Bonds are built through playbook study groups and NBA playoff gatherings in dorm TV lounges.
And then, as quick as the process starts, it ends. Just when guys start feeling like they’re forming a team, the reality hits…this team only has so many spots. The brotherhood that has slowly started to build gets shattered by the numbers game.
After Saturday, one’s roommate may be ushered to the airport as quickly as they arrived, often times without even exchanging phone numbers.
Friday’s walk-through in Saskatoon is exciting for a 2016 Saskatchewan Roughrider hopeful despite being the potential end of the line for some. Game Day and the competitive adrenaline always trumps the thought of being cut (or at least it should). Players have to deal in the present during these situations. As soon as one focuses on what may-be, they’ll be killing their chances of putting a great performance on tape for evaluation.
Saturday’s game will come and go quickly and the bus ride back to Saskatoon will be a lot longer than it was coming in. During that drive to the University of Saskatchewan from Mosaic Stadium one will mentally evaluate every rep from Day one up to through the exhibition game in hopes to figure out whether or not they’ve “done enough” to warrant another day.
One of the other things that this will give a guy time to do is fellowship with the same guys they’ve been building with since the 30th. For some, it will be the last time they’re together. It’s the business that they’ve chosen and will do anything for.
Today’s notes will include a brief analysis on 1 guy from every position group that is worth keeping an eye on. There’s no reason on focusing on which battles to watch because EVERY position has a battle going on right now. Saturday’s game is going to be the first real step towards clearing up some of these issues.
Football media in Sask is fickle. BJ Coleman is all the rage right now and rightfully so seeing as he’s progressed tremendously since taking some time to grasp the requirements of Coach Macadoo’s playbook, but people should have been talking about him long before this week because it’s not like he hasn’t been solid throughout camp! Sometimes these guys are like a heard of elephants all looking for the same watering hole. I’m expecting Coleman to continue to play well, and essentially be the QB that this coaching staff has liked since his days in the NFL, he’s got ALL THE TOOLS.
The guy I’m most interested in is Brett Smith. Smith seems to be at an apex in his journey with the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he could lock down the number 2 spot or lose it for good. His task at hand on Saturday is different than the one he’s used to with the Green and White, because he needs to RESPOND to adversity now, rather than be thrown into it like last year.
Smith has shown flashes of his unreal potential all camp and has gotten better with keeping his eyes downfield and using his strong arm to advance the rock.
Part of his performance may hinge on the Offensive Line that he gets to play with. Hopefully both QB’s get work with the A GROUP, because there’s a significant difference pass pro wise between the A’s and B’s right now. Despite who starts, and who doesn’t at the QB spot, the battle isfar from over. Watching to see how Brett Smith responds to the situation that he’s in is something I’m really looking forward to. He has to block out all the hype, and go out and make sound football decisions. That 2 spot hangs in the balance.
Thaddeus Coleman has been at Right Tackle since the beginning of Training Camp and since Jarriel King (#61) went down to injury, there hasn’t been seemed to be a whole lot of competition for Coleman. Now that’s not a bad thing as long as Coleman is the real deal. The 4th year pro is a monster who stands at 6’8, and 310lbs.
The physical aspect of the game is no problem for Coleman but he has a battle on his hands when it comes to fast athletic Defensive Ends coming off the edge. If a DE wants to be an idiot and try bull rushing him all game, there will be ZERO pressure coming off the right side. However watching shifty guys like Shawn Lemon and Jonathan Newsome go up against the big Tackle, one sees where Coleman may show some potential vulnerability.
2nd and 7+ situations are where I’m going to be rooting for the big fella. If his feet and hands work in unison against the Lions it’ll be a long day for any edge rusher.
As long as he doesn’t overcompensate for someone’s speed and give up an inside move because he’s in a hurry to get into his kick-step, whatever QB is in the game will be able to go through his progressions without being to hurried.
RBs and FBs
I’m not sure what number Levi Steinhauer is going to be wearing tomorrow (he’s had 3 #’s so far) but he’s injected a competitive element into that FB spot that has been nice to see. Don’t get me wrong, the battle between Johnta Hebert (#41) and Terrence Cobb (#24) is going to be spotlighted but now that Steinhauer is a FB, it’s made for some interesting roster possibilities.
Not only has the Moose Jaw native caught on to the TE/FB job but his special teams value MAY be higher than Spencer Moore’s. We can’t forget that Steiny is a terrific long-snapper and can produce in any phase of the kicking game that a coach asks him to.
Furthermore, Offensive Coordinator Stephen McAdoo hasn’t shown a propensity to utilize TWO TE/FB body types in his scheme as yet. That FB spot has become a battle. Steinhauer is a big kid that relishes the physical aspects of the FB position. If he shows that he has immersed himself in the playbook, and stayed invested in his value as a Special Teamer the Riders have great options at the FB spot.
There’s 3 guys that I hope will get to see some targets here, so this is a bit of a deviation in this column. Josh Stanford, Kyle Kawamoto, and SJ Haidara all seem to be log jammed behind Shamawd Chambers at the wide-side of the field.
During practises so far all three of these receivers have taken turns opening eyes at some point but during exhibition season, unfortunately there’s never enough balls to go around, and some guys just don’t get an opportunity to showcase their talents.
If given the chance, any one of these guys could make an impact on the score sheet. This position isn’t just out there as a decoy this year and with Chambers not having much luck with injury lately the guy that’s next in line may get a chance to contribute major reps in 2016.
This staff has done a terrific job assembling a talented pool of athletes to pick from in the defensive backfield. Throughout camp, we’ve talked about a lot of these guys and what they bring to the table so there’s no way that one should limit their focus to one or two players here.
I can’t tell you guys enough about the potential that Kevin Francis shows out there and that’s minus the opportunity to watch him on film. Simply put, the NATIONAL that the Riders grabbed in the Supplemental Draft this year is a FOOTBALL player. You could put him anywhere and I’d bet that he’d have a chance to succeed.
The guy I’ll spotlight today and who I’m really looking forward to seeing play on Saturday is #31 Justin Cox, the first year player out of Mississippi State. Cox seems to have caught on rather quickly to the nuances of the CFL game and adjusting to things like the waggle haven’t seemed to bother him a lot. I’ve commented on his ability to break on the football and close gaps on receivers efficiently so now I’m going to be watching to see whether all this ability carries over into his first test against a different coloured jersey.
Things will move a lot faster out there for the young guys on Saturday, and DB Coach Jason Shivers isn’t going to be on the field barking out commands and defensive necessities. Cox’s ability to play fast is going to rest on how comfortable he is within every called defence, and pre-snap movement of BC’s offence.
There’s plenty of players every year who don’t manage to convert impressive team drill and practise reps into on-field production during live bullets, but if Justin Cox continues to build on an already-impressive June the Riders seem to have found themselves a gem!
Saturday’s clash with the BC Lions will be the first time that Greg Jones puts a stamp on the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their defensive leader.
The MIDDLE LB position has always been looked at as a point of leadership on any good defence and during 2015, despite tremendous production out of Jeff Knox Jr, the Green and White were missing the leadership that they so desperately needed out of that spot.
Jones will bring consistency, stability and toughness to Chris Jones’ D and during camp he’s shown that he can also cover guys out of the backfield which is a must in the CFL. One look at the 3rd year CFLer’s resumé and you’ll see why this staff was so excited to bring him into the fold.
With guys like him and Otha Foster being at the breakout points in their career, the Riders may very well be in the conversation for having the best LB core in the CFL as the season progresses. Especially when one adds the possibility of getting Knox off the injured list or having a guy like Marte Sears step in and ball out. #SpartanDawg
The search to find some Defensive Push up the middle during 3 and 4-man pass rushing situations is at the top of my watch list tomorrow! For those who been out to practise, you’ve probably noticed how deep the Defensive END position looks, so now the focus shifts to the interior.
I’ll be keeping my eye on Markus White, the 3rd year Rider out of Florida State, and upon reading the depth charts sent out by the team, it looks like the former Seminole is getting the start, and for those who have followed Whites play it almost seems like a vindication of some sort. He’s a high motor guy that has worked hard for everything that he’s gotten since stepping foot in Regina a few years back.
It’s important to note that this starting opportunity isn’t ceremonial either. White has been consistent all of camp and while other Defensive Tackles have had a tough time adjusting to the game and creating pressure, White has let his WORK ETHIC carry him up the ranks.
Any success and production from White will start from his ability to play physically explosive off the Line Of Scrimmage.
From the initial impact, White’s relentlessness is what is going to get it done. He’s really an old-school grinder packed into a well distributed athletic frame.
For the last week we've talked about the fact that it would be really nice to see someone step up and grab one of the two spots available on that defensive interior. There’s only so much Chris Jones and John Murphy can do in terms of camp roster flexibility and airlifting more guys in to take a look at gets tougher and tougher as the evaluation opportunities go by. White’s put in all the work…Now it’s all about capitalizing.
Let me know where you'll be looking during Saturday's game...
SEE YOU AT MOSAIC STADIUM FOLKS!