2014 felt like a step back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders after the high of winning the 2013 Grey Cup. Yes, their 10-8 record was still respectable (if not as good as the 11-7 mark they posted the year before), but this time around, they fell in the first round of the playoffs against Edmonton. They also saw their regular-season points for drop from 519 to 399, and they allowed 441 points compared to the 398 they conceded in 2013. A big part of the issue was the health of quarterback Darian Durant; he missed the second half of the season after getting hurt in the Banjo Bowl, forcing the Riders to rely on the likes of Tino Sunseri and even Kerry Joseph. Saskatchewan's going with a more experienced group this year, which may or may not pay off, but the even more vital question for them may be if Durant can stay healthy.
In fact, those two areas intersect with the Riders' most experienced signing, who will be Durant's primary backup. That would be veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn, who's entering his 15th CFL season, and is now back with the team that first brought him into the league in 2001. On one hand, Glenn instantly gives the Riders what seems like a more viable option if Durant does get hurt again. It's easy to see him putting up better stats than the likes of Sunseri (who's still relatively inexperienced) and Joseph (who played at 41 last year, and did so after being out of football for most of the year). He did start most of the season for B.C. last year thanks to Travis Lulay's injury, and threw for 3,918 yards. On the other hand, though, Glenn may be useful veteran insurance, but you probably don't want him as a long-term starter at this point in his career. He's 36, and while he threw 17 touchdowns last year, he also threw 17 interceptions, and his general play with the Lions was far from dazzling; there's a reason they didn't bring him back. There are also questions about if having Glenn as their number-two quarterback hurts the Roughriders' long-term QB development plan.
The long-term strategy may not be the focus in Saskatchewan this year, though. The Riders are going with a lot of veteran players this year; they have the second-most average experience in the CFL (3.14 seasons, behind Calgary's 3.16), and the most game experience (43 games per player on average). They've made some big-name signings of older players, such as Glenn and receiver Jamel Richardson (who's 33). They tried a veteran-heavy strategy in 2011, and it didn't work out at all, as they finished 5-13. That doesn't mean this one's necessarily doomed; bringing in some key veterans like Geroy Simon paid off for them in 2013, especially in the playoffs. It's going to be interesting to see how this goes.
There are other notable changes for the Roughriders too. They have two new coordinators this year, bringing in former SFU head coach (and former B.C. Lions' offensive coordinator) Jacques Chapdelaine as OC and former Montreal linebackers coach Greg Quick as defensive coordinator. They've added some interesting free agents, including Canadian linebacker/special teams guy Keenan Macdougall from Calgary, they made a significant trade, landing Canadian linebacker Shea Emry from Toronto, and they've managed to keep some of their own key free agents, including league all-star safety Tyron Brackenridge and guard Dan Clark. However, there are a lot of questions for them heading into this season.
It's notable that Saskatchewan really didn't do anything all that well last year. Their special teams were perhaps their best unit, led by returner Tristan Jackson, but their kicking game had issues. Their defence was great at racking up sacks, but allowed too many yards and points, and their offence had significant struggles in both the rushing and passing games. Some of that could get better, especially if Durant is able to stay healthy (or, if not, if Glenn fills in well); perhaps the new coordinators will revitalize the offence and defence, and having the passing game be a bit of a threat could open up holes for the ground game. Maybe the defence will be able to be less one-dimensional this year too. Still, while there are things to like about the Riders, there are also still some big issues with this team. A veteran-heavy approach may not solve all of those.
Prediction: 8-10, fifth in West.
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