Pedersen: Pieces in place for success in Riderville

RRIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGG!

That’s your wake-up call Rider Nation.  It’s time to rise and shine from your off-season slumber and get ready to kickoff the 2014 Canadian Football League season this Sunday at Mosaic Stadium when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats come to town (7:00pm ET kickoff on TSN and the CKRM Rider Radio Network).

The crowds of 13,014 and 15,353 for the Riders’ two pre-season games at Mosaic Stadium are evidence enough that Rider fans have hit the snooze button a couple of times as they sleep off the Grey Cup hangover.

Ready or not, the new season is upon us and the Riders are set to defend its Canadian football title and repeat for the first time in franchise history.

The lack of hype may have something to do with the fact training camp was held in Saskatoon, but it’s clear people have been slow to climb aboard the bandwagon.

That’s fine, but the Riders have been hard at work constructing this roster for a brand new season. Perhaps the players themselves needed a wake-up call during camp, prompting head coach Corey Chamblin to call them an “average football team” five days into camp. However they’re wide awake now.

“Definitely,” Chamblin said before Friday’s 19-14 pres-eason loss to Edmonton in Regina.  “The guys responded and I can see daily that they’re responding to that.  They don’t want to be an average football team.  They want to be above average.”

It remains to be seen if that will be the case as they face a stiff test in Week 1 from Kent Austin’s Ticats who still have a bitter taste in their mouth after being trounced 45-23 by Saskatchewan in last year’s Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium.

And the Roughriders will have to prove themselves all over again as the BC Lions have been tabbed as the favourites by Bodog.ca to win this year’s Grey Cup while the Calgary Stampeders are the #1 team in CFL.ca’s first edition of their Power Rankings.

“We didn’t win the West Division last year!” Chamblin exclaimed.  “We won the Grey Cup.  As far as that goes, those are predictions and I don’t think anybody has that great of psychic ability. There’s too much that has to happen.  Whether we’re favoured or not, that doesn’t bother me.  We still have to play the games.”

Just like last year the Riders were 1-1 in the pre-season and training camp wrapped up with 26 players being released on Saturday’s CFL roster deadline.  The most notable of those were veteran Canadian receivers Jordan Sisco and Jade Etienne.

The Rider roster features a load of fresh faces including first-year receivers Chaz Schilens, Brett Swain and Ryan Smith. They’re vying to replace departed stars Weston Dressler and Geroy Simon at the inside slot positions. 

All-Star tailback Kory Sheets is gone too and Chamblin said in the early going, that position will be filled “by committee”.  First-year ball-carriers Keith Toston and Anthony Allen will attempt to fill those shoes although they both coughed up fumbles in preseason games which raised a few red flags.

The starting offensive line and quarterback are intact from last year as is the starting secondary while the linebacking core includes youngsters Chad Kilgore and Brian Peters (both of whom come with NFL backgrounds). It appears former Colt and Cardinal Marshay Green will be the primary returner after an electrifying 75-yard punt return touchdown in exhibition play.

The Riders’ ace in the hole is their coaching staff which boasts quality coordinators in George Cortez (offence), Richie Hall (defence) and Bobby Dyce (special teams) along with Chamblin, the reigning CFL Coach of the Year. 

CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder, a former nine-year CFL veteran, predicts that staff will account for “nine wins” right out of the gate.

The Green & White were the champions of both July and November last year.  However for now they’ll be happy just to be the champions of Week 1.