You can talk position battles all you want for the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp but nothing intrigues me more than the new world order running the Riders in the form of four men integral to the success of the team.
Four being integral to the discussion, because for three seasons, it was Chris Jones’ team. He ran football operations, he ran the room and he ran the defence.
After his departure to the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns, it leaves a four-man team to keep the Riders on the path laid out by their former boss.
Let’s first look at the new General Manager, Jeremy O’Day. The long time offensive lineman has served his time in various front office roles before given the keys to form, or re-form, the roster.
While he swung for the fences on quarterbacks Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell and fell short, picking up Powell was an important piece to give his incumbent quarterback Zach Collaros a strong every down running back who has been one of the best in the league.
That brings us to Jones’ replacement as head coach; Craig Dickenson.
Dickenson finds himself in what could be an unenviable position for a first time head coach. Usually, you see a coach come in after the previous guy failed. Not the case for Dickenson.
He has to follow in the footsteps of Jones, who had consecutive seasons of improvement with five, 10 and then 12 win seasons.
For Dickenson to succeed, he can’t try to be Chris Jones. That would be a disservice to himself after the years of earning the respect of his colleagues and players who have worked with or under a coach that is professional, amicable and prepared.
Every player I talked to this off-season about Dickenson says his meetings were precise, focused, and extremely detailed.
Dickenson has to find his own balance of commander of the room, while not losing the qualities that have players love to play for him.
Dickenson is extremely energetic, so I don’t see a drop off in intensity in the practice effort of the Riders that Jones demanded for the last three seasons.
I feel the biggest question mark of the new world order under Jones comes in the form of defensive coordinator Jason Shivers.
Is it crazy to think Shivers has the most to prove, despite working under a first time general manager and head coach?
Jones’ defences were OUTSTANDING!
He was known as a defensive master mind (or mad scientist).
Shivers benefits from having watched it up close and personal for almost his entire coaching career. But like O’Day and Dickenson, Shivers can’t be asked to run his defence like a cookie cutter from Jones.
I expect a lot of the same qualities of a fast and aggressive defence with the defensive line being integral to the success of the entire defence. If his defensive line and front seven can wreak havoc, I do believe the former defensive back will be able to draw up some coverages that also make quarterbacks tear their hair out.
But the biggest problem facing Shivers are the numbers the Riders defence put up last year in turnovers and touchdowns. It was nearly record breaking and I doubt Jones could have even repeated the same production last year.
A drop off though would be unfair to put at the feet of the new defensive coordinator. It’s just unrealistic to expect another historic defensive year.
Which brings us to the only leader of the team that is in the same position as last year and that is long time Chris Jones confidant Stephen McAdoo.
The offensive coordinator has the same quarterback, a similar group of offensive linemen and not a lot of change to the receiver corps. To say this offence last season struggled is an understatement.
McAdoo may not have the most to prove because he’s run a Grey Cup champion offence and just two years ago had the Roughriders offence lead the league in touchdowns.
What McAdoo has to do is prove he can win with Zach Collaros. He has to loosen the belt a little bit on what was a conservative attack but he also needs some of Jeremy O’Day’s moves to pay off.
Dickenson said he wants a team that wins at the line of scrimmage and added he needs an offence to consistently be in positive second down situations that allow it to be more aggressive.
That’s where William Powell will come in handy. The Riders saw it up close and personal several times in the last few years as Powell had big games against the Riders.
McAdoo would also love to see either some sophomore receivers or a new face show explosive ability to stretch the field. He had that in 2017 with Duron Carter, Bakari Grant, Caleb Holley and Naaman Roosevelt when they found the end zone almost three times more than they did in 2018.
Yes, there will be some quality camp battles to form the roster of the 2019 team but it’s the men who lead them and make a game plan around their skill set that are just as important to establish the new era of Rider football in Saskatchewan.
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