Depending on who you talk to, plans for the upcoming CFL season for the Saskatchewan Roughriders are coming along quite nicely.
The Riders are into the second week of 2014 Training Camp in Saskatoon presented by Groundforce Drilling and as far as the top of the organization is concerned, it’s two thumbs-up.
“I feel pretty good,” observed Roughrider President and CEO Jim Hopson after watching his troops for a few days of workouts. “There’s a lot of talent out there and we have a great core. The young guys seem to be making some plays so I think there will be some tough decisions to be made.”
So Hopson figures his team is a legitimate threat to repeat as CFL champions?
“Absolutely!” Hopson smiled.
“It’s a very competitive league and things happen but our team is very well-coached. It’s funny. You don’t want to sound cocky or start sending signals that you think you’re better than everybody but I just have a good feeling about this team.
“I like the direction set out by our head coach Corey Chamblin and this is a team that’s learned how to win. We’ve been in four of the last seven Grey Cups and won two. I see no reason why can’t do it again. For me, this is my last full season with the team so to end it on a high would be incredible.”
However before you purchase your tickets to the 2014 Grey Cup in Vancouver to watch your beloved Riders, heed the words of Corey Chamblin. After five days of workouts, the reigning CFL Coach of the Year let his team have it in the media last week.
“Right now at this point we’re a very average football team,” Chamblin huffed.
“That has nothing to do with the guys that left or who came back. It has to do with the fact we’re average in the way that we do things right now. We’re average in the way that we practice and in our habits. We have an expectation of how things should be done and right now we’re nowhere near that.”
Well if anyone knows how a championship team should practice, it’s Chamblin. And early in camp he’s been working side-by-side with his coordinators George Cortez (offence), Richie Hall (defence) and Bob Dyce (special teams) to get things down pat. However it’s not a finely-tuned machine just yet.
“The most important thing for us right now is getting the veterans back up to speed with what we did before and remember all of what we’ve done,” Cortez explained.
“For the new guys it’s to learn and show us that they’re learning what we’re asking them to do. If you’re new, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. You have to prove you can do what we’re asking.”
As mentioned last week there’s an interesting mix amongst the rookies that populate this roster which is far younger than last year at this time. It consists of players right out of Canadian junior or university programs alongside established NFL veterans. They all qualify as rookies and seemingly take equally as long to grasp the playbook.
“The guys that had time in NFL camps are more polished obviously, especially in running routes,” Cortez explained.
“But all the other stuff is new. It was easy to learn the waggle at our camp in Florida because there were no linemen and so forth. It’s different here so they have to adjust to that, plus playcalls that ask them to block. That’s a major transition for them because in the States, you’re not asked to do that.”
For some reason this feels like a roller coaster at Disneyland that’s waiting by the starting gate as people step aboard and strap themselves in. The ride is just beginning and heaven only knows the twists and turns that are ahead.