Rod Pedersen is the Voice of the Saskatchean Roughriders on 620 CKRM. You can check out his award-winning blog at www.rodpedersen.com. Follow Rod on Twitter @sportscage.
Okay I'm on board.
I will reluctantly admit to initially being skeptical about the Saskatchewan Roughriders in this off-season of 2012. I mean, why not?
Last year at this time, as I appeared on radio talk shows around the CFL, I confidently predicted the Green & White would finish first in the West Division and appear in a third-straight Grey Cup, ultimately winning at BC Place and vanquishing the demons of the 13th Man and the Alouette Curse.
Of course we all know how that turned out. In 2011, the Roughriders suffered one of the worst seasons in franchise history at 5-13. Grey Cup? Pffft. They missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
So Riders GM Brendan Taman not-so-quietly went to work beginning in December with the hiring of Corey Chamblin as his head coach. It mattered not to Taman that Chamblin has never coached a CFL game.
Ironically it mattered not to Roy Shivers who hired Danny Barrett, Eric Tillman who hired Kent Austin and Ken Miller, to Miller who hired Greg Marshall, and now Taman. Mark it down; the last five Rider head coaches have all been rookies.
But I digress.
I was on the fence for fear of having another bold prediction get blown out of the water. However the enthusiasm and energy glowing out of Mosaic Stadium is contagious. Either get on board or get left behind.
Free agency was encouraging for the Riders as they landed offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard and homegrown cornerback Paul Woldu, a two-time Grey Cup champ with Montreal.
However two things officially sold me: the trade to acquire All-Star defensive end Odell Willis from Winnipeg, and the impressive list of "rookies" the club has signed for training camp.
In the case of Willis, often was the time I watched the Blue Bomber defense last year and thought to myself "I wish we had somebody like him". And now we do.
As for the new faces, the Riders have no less than 11 former NFL draft picks who have committed to camp. To put that in perspective, last year defensive end Brent Hawkins was the ONLY former NFL draft pick in camp.
It seemed the Riders' achilles heel last season were the defensive end spots and the offensive line (at least over the final third of the season). That combined with a mysteriously shattered sense of confidence contributed to the team's demise. That's not the case any longer.
More than anything, it's inspiring that Taman has staked his job and his reputation on this group. With one year left on his contract, he's placed his confidence in a first-year coach and a wayward defensive end (a potential team MVP) to get this franchise back on track in a one-shot deal.
What would it take to extend Taman's contract? A home playoff game? A playoff appearance? Right now no one knows.
Let's just start with game one at Hamilton on Friday, June 29 against Burris and the boys.