REGINA — An active off-season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders transitions into the 2013 season with the opening of their main training camp in Saskatoon on Sunday.
The off-season highlights featured the additions of marquee veterans such as slotback Geroy Simon, defensive end Ricky Foley, middle linebacker Rey Williams and defensive backs Dwight Anderson and Weldon Brown. The changes in the coaching staff were highlighted by the hiring of George Cortez as offensive co-ordinator and the departure of special-teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson.
Whether those moves will be enough for the Riders to rebound from last year’s heartbreaking 36-30 loss to the host Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal and enable them to achieve on-field success will be determined. An appearance in the Grey Cup game remains the Roughriders’ main goal. The fact the Grey Cup game is to be held in Regina on Nov. 24 provides additional drama for the 2013 season.
Here’s a look at some of the questions looming over the Riders before the team heads to Saskatoon today for training camp:
What will be Corey Chamblin’s imprint in his second season as head coach?
Be prepared for a number of statements by Chamblin about the Riders being a family. Chamblin has already stressed that aspect of developing the Riders in 2013. He also realized that the Riders needed some veteran players to be successful and to help younger players develop. Chamblin accomplished that by adding leadership and hopefully upgrades with the veterans. The Riders are older than in Chamblin’s rookie season. He’s expecting them being better too.
What can we expect from Chris Getzlaf?
Statistically, the veteran slotback had a decent season in 2012, with 65 receptions for 864 yards and two touchdowns, and he also was named a West Division all-star. You have to wonder how good the season might have been had he not battled catching the ball at times. The acquisition of Simon takes some of the pressure off Getzlaf to be the next option behind star slotback Weston Dressler. Getzlaf appears more suited to that role and will have more space with teams concentrating on Simon. The Riders hope to address Getzlaf’s catching woes with more drills during training camp. If that takes place, look for Getzlaf to return to the form he showed in 2011 when he had 60 receptions for 1,071 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns.
What impact will Cortez have as the offensive co-ordinator?
It will be significant. Cortez is an offensive guru who has had success with quarterbacks in all his stops. He was fired as Hamilton’s head coach and director of football operations after just one season. The Tiger-Cats were among the league’s most explosive offences, but weren’t able to overcome their leaky defence. Cortez likes what he sees from Darian Durant and feels there is room for the 30-year-old quarterback to develop. Based on Cortez’s past performances as a coach, Durant can be expected to return to the form that he showed in 2009 and 2010 while leading the Riders to consecutive Grey Cup games.
How will the Riders and the Rider Nation respond to Dwight Anderson?
Anderson is among the league’s legendary trash talkers who other teams hate to play against, but he has been a solid contributor to the squad on which he plays. Anderson does have some baggage, but the Riders feel his coverage skills will overcome that. Anderson remains a solid defensive back who will win over the Riders and the Rider Nation as the season progresses.
Who will be the primary returner?
The release of Tristan Jackson opened up more competition for the position. Jock Sanders showed flashes that he can handle the role as a returner before being injured in 2012. There are also newcomers — DeDe Dorsey and Stephfon Green — who will audition for the position. The best option is still Dressler. His importance to the offence goes without saying, but he also brings those attributes to the special teams as a punt returner. He’s sure-handed, which is a key. Dressler is also capable of breaking free for a touchdown, like he did against the Montreal Alouettes in Week 17 last year. It was the Roughriders’ first punt return for a touchdown since Jason Armstead in 2007. That feat alone should earn Dressler more than a cursory glance as a returner.
Can Kory Sheets be as effective this season as he was in 2012?
Sheets was among the most pleasant surprises of the 2012 season. The first-year CFLer was second in the league with 1,277 rushing yards and tied with Calgary’s Jon Cornish with a league-leading 11 rushing touchdowns. Sheets was effective as a receiver with 49 receptions for 517 yards and two touchdowns. Cortez feels that Sheets can become a better route runner, which would increase his opportunities to touch the ball. The more the ball is in the hands of Sheets, the better the Riders’ offence seems to operate. There isn’t any reason to think Sheets won’t do anything but continue to improve.
Will the Riders be the third straight home team to play in a Grey Cup game?
That’s asking a lot for any team to follow up what the B.C. Lions did in 2011 and the Toronto Argonauts duplicated in 2012. More impressively, those teams also won. The pieces are there this year to make a strong run for a Grey Cup berth. Whether those pieces come together will be fun to watch this season. The first step is winning a game. Remember the Riders ended the 2012 season on a five-game losing streak that included the West Division semifinal.
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post