To get you set for Roughriders Training Camp that begins on Sunday, here is Part 1 of my preview and the battles to watch and who to watch in Saskatoon.
STILL HERE: Darian Durant, Brett Smith
IN: B.J. Coleman, Armanti Edwards (WR)
OUT: Keith Price (B.C.), Blake Sims
Darian Durant is the number one guy. Head Coach Chris Jones has talked glowingly of his quarterback, making countless comparisons to Mike Reilly who helped Jones win a title in Edmonton last season.
That doesn't mean there isn't a question about what Durant will look like after his Achilles injury and the fact he hasn't played a full game since the Labour Day game in 2014. That's a long time to sit out.
The battle is behind Durant. Brett Smith is the incumbent but I don't think it's a given he'll be the #2 when the season starts. B.J. Coleman is right now the only quarterback to challenge, though Jones did say more quarterbacks will be coming to camp. Armanti Edwards is listed as a receiver but can throw the ball around from his days in college. I'll be curious if he gets any reps at QB in camp.
RUNNING BACKS/FULLBACKS-TIGHT END ( *denotes national)
STILL HERE: Spencer Moore*,
IN: Curtis Steele, Matt Walter*, Terrance Cobb, Malcolm Cyrus, Devrin Young, Jordan Reaves*, Kevin Francis*
OUT: Anthony Allen (B.C.), Chad Spann, Stephen Houston, Matt Rea*, Scott McHenry*, Carl Fitzgerald*
Curtis Steele joins the Riders out of Toronto via free agency and the coach tabbed him as the number one guy going into training camp. The running backs are the hardest to evaluate at training camp and a lot will come down to game days in the pre-season to get a true sense of what they can do.
The biggest things will be pass protection in camp. For the new comers to the CFL, they'll find out quickly that protection may be just as important as how many yards you can pile up along the ground.
Matt Walter was a nice pick up for the team to help the dynamic of the rotation of the ratio to potentially have a back-up Canadian running back.
Cobb, Cyrus and Young are all different types of backs with Cobb being a near six footer who weighs 220 pounds. He was at Riders training camp last year but never made much of an impression. Cyrus and Young are relatively young players hoping to kick start a pro career, who will have the biggest learning curve.
Kendial Lawrence, listed as a receiver, can lineup anywhere in this offense and right now you can easily see Steele, Walter and Lawrence all being on the roster, making it necessary for the other three RBs to really make an impression to land on the Week 1 46-man roster.
When it comes to the full back position, the Riders appear to be turning it more into a tight-end spot, looking at bigger receiver type players, rather than your prototypical Chris Szarka/Neal Hughes type.
Spencer Moore, the cagey veteran in this group (entering his fourth season) are joined by young Canadians Jordan Reaves and recently drafted Kevin Francis who was picked up in the supplemental draft. All three are well over six feet and 220 pounds.
STILL HERE: Rob Bagg*, S.J. Haidara*, Nic Demski*, Naaman Roosevelt, Ryan Lankford, Marcus Davis
IN: Shamawd Chambers*, Kendial Lawrence, John Chiles, Victor Dean Jr., Clarence Denmark, Shay Hodge, Alec Lemon, Joshua Stanford*, Armanti Edwards, Etauj Allen
OUT: Weston Dressler (WPG), Chris Getzlaf* (EDM), Alex Carroll*, Ryan Smith (WPG), Taj Smith, Jamel Richardson
The entire receiving corps that started the 2015 season is gone except for Rob Bagg and Nic Demski.
Naaman Roosevelt was a spark to the offense once he finally got his opportunity midway through the season and could have been on pace for a 1,000-yard season if he played a full 18 games.
The team is going with two Canadian receivers as Bagg and former Eskimo Shamawd Chambers have the inside track for those positions but Nic Demski will definitely take another jump in his sophomore season and if he impresses, will be a hard player to keep off the field.
Demski and Lawrence have similar dynamic because they can lineup in multiple spots and be dangerous and it'll be interesting to watch how they are utilized in Stephen McAdoo's offense.
When you look at experience to fill out the receiving spots, Clarence Denmark tops the list with John Chiles. Denmark was a nice add after the sudden retirement of Maurice Price to ensure some veteran presence if the rookies can't make a jump into the CFL game.
Chiles is someone I have pegged to have the potential of a stellar season. He showed well in Toronto before giving the NFL a try. A player who likely more a short side wide receiver than a slot, but has played both with success in the league.
After that Dean Jr, Hodge, Lemon, Lankford, Edwards and Davis will be great to see who among that crop rises to the top. There will be one or two out of that group that could break thru. Chris Jones isn't going to keep someone off the field if they show they can play at a higher level than a vet. With the exception of Lankford, Allen and Edwards, they all have the size Jones likes to see in a receiver.
STILL HERE: Brendon LaBatte*, Chris Best*, Dan Clark*, Matt Vonk*, Xavier Fulton
IN: Andrew Jones*, Aaron Picton*, Alex McKay*, Tre'von Armstead, Jarriel King, Thaddeus Coleman, Darryl Johnson, Kamalie Matthews, Josiah St. John*
OUT: Levy Adcock (B.C.), Corey Watman*(Tor), Jermarcus Hardrick
With the signing of Xavier Fulton this week the offensive line that struggled last year is in tact except for the right tackle spot. The Riders have brought in more than enough talent to challenge CFL vets Fulton and Thaddeus Coleman to get a starting tackle spot.
In fact, there is a chance neither win their spot on the roster. Protecting Darian Durant off the edge is the most important thing the team needs to solidify in camp.
The biggest story will eventually be Josiah St. John once he signs a contract (eventually it will happen). Can the first overall pick make an immediate impact or will this be a two year project before he can take over what the team hopes can be a starting right tackle spot?
The team will also hope to see Aaron Picton and Matt Vonk show them that they have the depth in the interior of the line if injuries happen this season. Andrew Jones is a great insurance guy as the 33-year old continues to find his niche as a consistent fourth or fifth Canadian OL on the roster.
NYE'S NEW FACES TO WATCH ON OFFENSE
Quarterback B.J. Coleman – sounds like he already has a decent grasp of the game after mini-camp. Can he carry that into main camp with some better defenders out there?
Running backs Devrin Young and Malcolm Cyrus – These two 23-year old are different backs. Young is fast and more a return guy in college than a running back while Cyrus was an all-conference running back in school.
Receiver John Chiles – I think this is a player who can make the departure of Weston Dressler hurt a little less for Rider fans.
Rookie Receivers – I'm going to cop out here as John Murphy and Chris Jones have brought in to the league the likes of Eric Rogers and Derel Walker, among others who have starred. The safe bet, is there is at least one (maybe more) diamond in the rough of the likes of Dean Jr., Hodge, Allen, Edwards, and Lemon.