It’s the day Rider fans circle on their calendar. It’s the day their football heroes begin work on what they hope will be a Grey Cup championship season. As we all know, the team has been close for the past two years getting to the doorstep, but not being able to walk through the door thanks to the Montreal Alouettes.
As is the case with every season, there are questions revolving around the football team and here is what I think is most pertinent going into the season. Of course, feel free to comment away or add anything that I’ve missed
1. IMPROVING SPECIAL TEAMS
There is no doubt this area needs a lot of improvement from 2010. Right from the get-go, the green and white had problems with their special teams and it got to the point that fans just started to wait for that first mistake and just how many would be made. The team acknowledged it had to improve that area and they have. Craig Dickenson takes over for Jim Daley and he knows better results are needed from the area he looks over.
Tristan Jackson will have the first opportunity to be the primary return guy. Eddie Johnson will be the punter and Christopher Milo will be given an opportunity to kick field goals until Luca Congi returns from last season’s knee injury. There is nowhere to go but up for this unit.
2. REPLACING ANDY FANTUZ
The loss of Andy Fantuz to the NFLs Chicago Bears is a big one, but the football team can overcome the loss much the way they have to other key players over the past few years. Chris Getzlaf should get the first opportunity to fill Fantuz’s shoes and there is no reason to think he won’t have his biggest year yet. Getzlaf just gets better and better and better and he no longer will work in Fantuz’s shadow. There are other questions in the receiving core as well, but none of them are dire. What will Jason Clermont’s role be? When will Rob Bagg be back? Where do you put Cary Koch? How many more balls will Weston Dressler see?
3. RE-ESTABLISHING THE PASS RUSH
Head Coach Greg Marshall has already said he can’t wait to see what a healthy Brent Hawkins does this year. Hawkins can certainly be a force on one side of the ball, but what about the other. I don’t know if the team can find a duo like John Chick and Stevie Baggs again, but there will be many contenders for that other defensive end spot.
4. TAD KORNEGAY
What does Richie Hall have in store for Tad Kornegay? If it wasn’t for Gary Etcheverry, Kornegay may no longer be in the CFL as he successfully transferred him from being an ordinary defensive back to an all-star linebacker. Richie has a more conventional defence and in that defence, I wonder if Kornegay can flourish. If he can’t, does he get the starting corner job that Omarr Morgan had last year and if he does, will he be the impact player that he has been. Some believe Kornegay can be a tremendous shut-down corner. We will see.
5. DARIAN DURANT’S DURABILITY
This is something that not many people have discussed, but its there and it needs to be talked about. There is no bigger Durant fan in this town than yours truly. I think the sky is the limit for what this guy can do. I will always wonder what 2008 would have ended like if Durant hadn’t suffered broken ribs against the Argos thus starting the ridiculous quarterback carousel that ended with Michael Bishop’s brutal performance in the Western semi. As good as Darian has been, he hasn’t been a pillar of health. Yes, all quarterbacks go through bumps and bruises and he isn’t as fragile as Buck Pierce, but he has had some problems. Remember Darian did admit he wasn’t at 100 percent for the Grey Cup. If Darian can stay healthy, he will establish himself as the top quarterback in this league and he may be getting some pictures of himself with the CFL MOP trophy during Grey Cup week.
If you want a bonus question, it would have to be the transition from Ken Miller to Greg Marshall. The relationship Miller had with his team the past few years is unique in pro sports. Marshall is said to share the same philosophies and attributes Miller had, but will he be able to share the same relationship. Harmony in the locker-room is obviously key. Miller had the smarts to find someone that he could confidently pass the torch to. The relationship between players and coach can't be the same as the one Miller had with the team, but it will be doable and it will give the Marshall the building blocks to what I think is another appearance in the GC game.