November 1, 2012

Nye: Unsung heroes deserve credit in Riderville

Five Saskatchewan Roughriders were recognized this week as player award nominees. Much will be written about their seasons and many accolades will be thrown the way of Weston Dressler, Dominic Picard, Xavier Fulton, Tyron Brackenridge and Sam Hurl.

Honoured Riders

The CFL announced the team winners for the 2012 Gibson’s Finest CFL Player Awards. The players were selected by voting members of the FRC and the CFL head coaches. Below are the Riders’ selections.
Player – Weston Dressler *
Defensive – Tyron Brackenridge

Canadian – Dominic Picard
Offensive Lineman – Dominic Picard
Special Teams – Sam Hurl
Rookie – Xavier Fulton

But there are definitely other members of the Roughriders that deserve some individual recognition they didn’t receive any on Wednesday and no, I’m not talking about the quarterback.

First of all, let’s talk about Kory Sheets.

The running back came from nowhere in training camp and grabbed the starting job from Brandon West. He’s now the second leading rusher in the CFL and right near the top in touchdowns.

Sheets’ ability to run effectively took tremendous pressure of Darian Durant to move the football and allowed the offence to open up.

His type of big-play ability was lacking in the Riders offence last year.

Now to the offensive line who helped block for him. Three members of the line stand out for entirely different reasons.

Brendon LaBatte was likely 1A or 1B or 1C for the top offensive lineman award along with Picard and Fulton. The pressure on the Weyburn product coming to play in Saskatchewan was tremendous. He was filling in for the soon to be hall of famer Gene Makowsky at left guard and once again had an All-Star calibre season.

Ben Heenan also had pressure. The hometown boy drew many comparisons to the previously mentioned Makowsky when he was selected first overall this past spring. If it weren’t for that pick, the Riders would have been scrambling at guard all season due to the injuries suffered by Chris Best and LaBatte earlier in the year. Heenan is close to the best backup offensive lineman in the CFL. A tremendous rookie season indeed.

Patrick Neufeld is yet another homegrown lineman who stepped up. He was the number-six offensive linemen and maybe even lower coming out of training camp. The Riders started with two import tackles but Neufeld continued to work and show that the Riders could rework the ratio and have four Canadians start up front. A move that allowed them to move another import into the offence (Jock Sanders/Brandon West).

The final member of the offence to mention is Taj Smith. In 13 games this season he averaged over 50 yards receiving. Throw that over 18 games and it’s just shy of 1,000 yards. In the last four games going into the season finale (which he likely won’t play in to rest up for the playoffs) he is averaging over 80 yards per game. A much needed third receiver weapon that Darian Durant is starting to rely on.

Now to the defensive side of the ball where Tyron Brackenridge didn’t win the voting in a landslide because of solid seasons by a few of his colleagues.

The addition of Joe Lobendahn at mid-season can not be overlooked. He plugged the middle of the defence and it appeared to change the identity of the entire unit. He only played nine games but still made 40 tackles.

Terrell Maze is a young defensive back who had rookie and defensive player consideration from the voters in Saskatchewan. His stats for a DB aren’t eye popping because he has zero interceptions on the year. But when you look at the film, rarely do you see number 30 get picked on.
He solidified a position that started with a struggling Nick Graham to begin the year. Before Graham’s release, the coaches said the former Rider had ‘shut down potential’. Maze has more than just potential, he’s almost already there.

Finally, we get to Abraham Kromah. The forgotten player who was in the top five in league tackling before his injury. Here’s some simple math. In his six games he started and finished before the injury in week seven he had 34 tackles.

If that production goes the full 18 games, Kromah’s pace was 102 tackles. Adam Bighill of the B.C. Lions has 98 for second in the league. Kromah would have easily been the rookie and defensive player of the year in Saskatchewan. Kromah is healthy and will play in the season finale and will be a huge boost to the Riders roster come playoff time.

The common theme to the players named above is they are all new faces to the starting lineup of the Roughriders this season.