Refreshed, re-energized, refocussed, recharged; whatever word you want to use to describe a team coming off a bye week has been used this week by the Roughriders and the media going into Saturday’s game against the Toronto Argonauts.
Now the team is looking to be rewarded for a hard week of practice. It started behind closed doors with the team electing to use their allowed one closed practice per week for the first time all season.
When the doors were open, you noticed a change. Quick tempo between each session.
Coaches running between drills. Coaches barking at players to hustle to their next drill and adjusting the schedule to increase the pace of practice.
As the players were getting critiqued and graded on film during the bye week, Head Coach Corey Chamblin also took a look at he and his coaches.
He noticed improvements had to be made there as well.
“From the top down, including myself, it has to be. You know especially with a younger team you have to get them going and it’s not just get them going to play fast, they have to understand what the standard is. Our standard is to make sure that we practice fast and practice with a good tempo.”
The players, even those who are new to the team like first year receiver Chaz Schilens have taken notice.
“They’ve been busting our butts and making sure we have the energy and know exactly where to be at. They’ve done a great job and maybe it has trickled down and we’re going to go out there and I feel like we’re going to play a good game.”
The coach was quick to note that the changes to practice, the increased pace and increased intensity was something he felt could help the younger players get a sense of the Rider way, not a critique of the way they’ve come out of the gate in games.
“I don’t think we lacked intensity coming out but I think we lacked total direction meaning for the young guys to understand what the standard is to win football games.”
And sometimes great insight on what ails a team comes from outside. Former running back and 2013 Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets provided that in an interview with me this week.
He said he believed the Riders need to get that fire back that they had last year and noted in talking with a few former teammates, they agreed with him.
After a pair of losses going into the bye week, first year receiver Brett Swain feels the team may have found that fire.
“Our last two games were definitely learning experiences. When you deal with adversity it’s how you take that adversity. It’s what are you going to do to correct the issues that are at hand,” explained Swain.
“You can’t ever accept a loss and just say ‘oh we’re going to have a losing season’. You have to accept that loss and say ‘hey, we got some things we have to fix and where do we take this season from now?’”
Swain speaks from experience. He owns a Super Bowl ring from his time with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and says the Riders are in a similar spot to the Packers following their 2010 title.
“When we won the Super Bowl and we came back the next year and one of the main focusses was understand coming off a big season like Saskatchewan did last year, when you enter any type of game the next season you are going to get every teams best.”
“You are the defending champs and people are going to want to knock you off that week. You know it’s almost like a playoff game every time so you’re not going to get an off week.”
It’s a tall order for a team that has so many playmakers missing from last year’s Grey Cup game and getting players like Swain and Schilens acclimatized to the offense to play ‘playoff’ football in a young season.
But it’s their reality.
They have to match the intensity of the opposition, gunning to prove themselves against the defending champs.
Head Coach Corey Chamblin hopes his new up tempo practices carry over to this week’s kickoff.
“The intensity is pushing these guys. It doesn’t matter how intense or fired up I am, it’s about these guys and making sure they’re ready to go.”
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