A new regime means a different approach for Saskatchewan’s Riders at the CFL Combine.
Everything from information gathering to watching film and who’s involved in the evaluation process has changed under Vice President, General Manager and Head Coach Chris Jones’ leadership. Assistant Vice President of Football Operations and Administration Jeremy O’Day, who has been in the franchise’s front office since retiring as a player in 2010, already notices what’s been adjusted.
“We did a lot more work prior to the combine than we did before. A lot of the work we did before, but it was after the combine. Now we are more prepared,” O’Day says.
The Riders used all 20 or so men on their football staff to reach out to trusted sources that have been around prospects to find out as much as possible about each player in advance of the combine. Along with the background research, Jones wanted to ensure that every coach or scout came into the talent-assessing event with the prospects fresh in their minds.
“We intentionally waited to watch film until right before the combine so we are very familiar with the players,” Jones says. “You have to do a real good job of having eyes on every group and getting the position coaches involved watching the prospects they just got through evaluating on tape. “
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Saskatchewan has a draft board put together with players ranked by position and best overall top to bottom. Those rankings are fluid and will certainly be affected by what the Riders see and discover at the combine.
“You’ve seen guys come in and they’re ranked one way and then all of a sudden they blow the workout up – if a player does really well he can move up a round or so, if he comes and doesn’t do well he can definitely hurt his stock,” Jones says.
Compared to years past, the combine will carry more weight for the final grades that the Riders put on players.
“With our philosophy and how we are now about measurables, speed, height, weight – those attributes are going to be more important to us than before,” O’Day says.
Along with that change, Saskatchewan’s interviews with prospects are going to be more casual.
“Ours are going to be an open conversation with a number of coaches in the room and try to get to know the kid and relax a little bit,” O’Days says.
That said, O’Day believes the interview process has become standardized with players being strictly focused on aiming to impress.
“Someone can put on an act for 15 minutes. It’s almost like they push play with every answer,” the four-time CFL All-Star lineman says. “We gather information as the weekend goes on and meet the kids not in the interviews, more when they’re being real. That’s when you find out what type of person they are.”
What happens at the National CFL Combine in Toronto could go a long way towards determining who or what the Riders might do with the number one overall draft selection.
“We’re looking at who’s our top pick. What are our options? Do we have a clear-cut guy that we want to get at No. 1? And if not, do we want to drop down and get additional picks or another player with a draft pick?” O’Day says.
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Jones believes seeing the best prospects competing with his own eyes in the same events and on the field provides them with a chance to show what they can do against elite competition. Whether that’s the top offensive lineman and defensive lineman squaring off in the trenches, or receivers and defensive backs lining up in one-on-one situations.
That becomes the most important film the Riders will take into consideration.
“When you’re watching the film, that’s not necessarily the case when they’re playing a game. This is an opportunity for them to play against a higher level of athlete,” Jones says.
From the first combine Jones attended in Montreal a while back, the event has improved from a scouting perspective.
“Over the years it’s evolved to where you can come and get your work done,” Jones says. “You can evaluate and say this guy can be a third-round draft pick and this guy can be a first-round draft pick.”
By the time Saskatchewan’s revamped front office leaves the combine, it’s going to have a strong idea of which direction it’ll go in the draft.