CFL Camp Countdown: Riders double down on Darian Durant
Continuing our CFL Camp Countdown series, here's a look at what's ahead for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, based off Thursday's conference call with team president Jim Hopson, general manager Brendan Taman and head coach Corey Chamblin.
— This offseason saw plenty of moves made at quarterback, with Hamilton and Toronto both making notable trades to try and upgrade their starters. The 5-13 Riders finished below both of those teams last season, but are standing pat with Darian Durant. Chamblin said his role as starter heading into the season isn't in question.
"Darian is our leader," Chamblin said. "We know he'll take us where we need to go, where we want to go."
—That makes sense from this standpoint; Durant didn't have a great 2011, but was very solid in both 2009 and 2010, and was a crucial part of the Riders' back-to-back runs to Grey Cup games. Taman cited that success as the main reason behind their faith in Durant.
"We were struggling last year; there were a lot of reasons for that, but our starting quarterback has been to two of the last three Grey Cups," Taman said. "I don't think that's luck."
— As Taman said, the issues with the Riders last year went well beyond their pivot, so it's logical to wait and see if they can get Durant back in form. The confidence in Durant has also allowed Taman to gamble on some higher risks with his other quarterback slots heading into training camp, including former NCAA star Colt Brennan, a guy who hasn't played three-down football before and will take time to adjust but could have a very high ceiling down the road.
"We sort of took a different approach than we had in the past," Taman said. "We took out the experience factor and we rolled the dice a bit more."
— There are some other notable changes with this Rider team, including Chamblin coming in as head coach. He's working with defensive coordinator Richie Hall to overhaul the defence, and said their strong previous relationship will help.
"I learned a lot of the technique for playing CFL ball from him," Chamblin said.
— On defence, the team's overhauled their linebacking corps, which Taman said will pose some short-term problems but help them down the road.
"When it's all said and done, we're going to have three guys who haven't been there before, but in the long run, we'll be fine," Taman said.
— Much as he did in Hamilton, Chamblin plans to bring an aggressive approach to the Riders' defensive strategy. He said the crucial focus is going to be improving their takeaway numbers. However, he also wants the offensive side of the ball to emphasize committing less turnovers.
"Our aim is to be first in those categories," Chamblin said. "I talked to the players about what it's going to mean in terms of mental and physical conditioning."
— An offensive acquisition Chamblin's excited about is receiver Sinorice Moss, who comes to the Riders after five years with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
"He's a guy with a lot of speed," Chamblin said. "We look for him to be a big-time playmaker."
— Taman said it's become easier to land more well-known names like Moss thanks to the CFL's deal with the NFL Network.
"With the exposure we have, especially on the NFL Network, a lot of these guys have had exposure to us," he said.
— It's not just Americans who make intriguing additions, though. First-overall draft pick Ben Heenan may have received much of the ink, but the Riders' final pick, the selection of Sherbrooke receiver Ismael Bamba in the sixth round (39th overall), may prove just as important. Bamba didn't put up the CIS stats of some other players, but has demonstrated game-breaking speed and athletic ability and looks like one of the best late-round picks this year. Taman said they have high expectations for Bamba.
"He's a guy who will come in and compete," Taman said. "His athleticism and his speed was particularly impressive. As luck turned out, he was still sitting there when we had our last pick. We were very lucky to get him."
Taman said having Bamba still available 39th overall thrilled the Riders' staff.
"We're really excited to get him," Taman said. "You hear that about every pick, but in his case, it's really true."
— However, Taman said that most of their picks are probably more about the long-term than the immediate future.
"Any time you go into the draft, it's rare you can go in and get a guy who can make an impact right away," he said. "We're improving our depth. We have some good guys we're going to develop, but the impact right now is pretty minimal."
— While they lost a prominent Canadian receiver this offseason in Andy Fantuz the Riders should get another one back: Rob Bagg, who missed all of last season following an ACL injury before training camp. Chamblin said he's been impressed by Bagg as an opponent, and looks forward to working with him.
"I've game-planned against Rob a lot," he said.
Chamblin liked what he saw from Bagg in a recent workout, too.
"Rob looked up to form," Chamblin said. "He's definitely renewed and wants to regain form. I'm pleased with what I'm seeing from him right now."
— While the Riders may have made plenty of splashes already this offseason, Taman said you can't assume they're done.
"I think we're getting close, but there are still some moves to be made."