Sometimes you find the most interesting things in the most unexpected places.
On Tuesday night I had signed up for what was billed as the Fan Series Tour, which was formerly known as the Pros and Joes Tour.
The last four years the Riders had worked with a local charity, at first it was the cancer society, to hold a night where fans can pay money, tour the facilities, then have snacks and ask questions of various members of the Riders.
It was an interesting experience, with former Rider Coach Cory Chamblin one year giving a number of fans an advance preview to the type of behavior that would lead to his getting fired. Chamblin was a thin skinned guy, but he went out of his way to make fans who came in good faith to support the club and tour the facility that would be shut down soon feel like crap.
Not surprisingly after that performance, the next year it was just GM Brendan Taman who signed me to a Rider contract after a Q and A where I said he should trade for Solomon Eliminion. Last year there was no Chris Jones, just Jeremy O’Day and Chris Best, Tevaughn Campbell, Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti.
I sat with Best and Campbell and had a great time in the last year at Taylor Field and this year expectations were sky-high for the new field and facilities. So for $75 you would get a tour of the football facilities, have a pop and some snacks, then a Q and A with players Johnny Newsome, Dan Clark and Jarriel King.
The full stadium tour was not offered because it appears it is not completely ready yet. There is work going on on the outside, to presumably where the Plaza of Honour plaques and Rider Fan Wall names will be set up, then the Confederation Park where pre-game activities are supposed to be taking place is undergoing some landscaping to make it presumably tail-gate friendly.
On the inside of the stadium, the names of players whose numbers have been retired are on the wall or ring of the stadium and you can see the PIL Place or Nation area where it will be tables and beer in the end zone for what I hear is $25 which is a bargain because to be honest, there are only 12 bad seats in the whole stadium.
I say that because on our way to football operations, it was mentioned the City of Regina has found some seats which are dead spots in terms of sound and/or sighting. So while the tour of the stadium and more importantly, getting down to the tunnel where the Riders will come out was not complete, the football operations tour was worth the money spent.
The Grand Staircase on the Titanic has nothing on the Rider Grand Staircase which is lined with panels of game action and the first reaction is WOW! When you get to football operations, there is a big digital clock which when we were there was counting down to the start of training camp. There is a huge team meeting room with great chairs and everything is set up to accommodate IPads for players to download film and information. There are positional meeting rooms which was smaller but on the walls is a prominent Rider or Riders and a bit of background on who did well in those positions.
The workout area is fantastic and even includes a section of turf for various on-field drills. The Riders actually had more area for storage in the old stadium, but the problem was the storage area was underneath the stands and the slope of the stands reduced the area available. The Riders opted for a high-density storage area for helmets, shoes, pads and other items in gigantic moveable closets.
The training facilities include three pools, one which has an underwater treadmill to help treat injuries, then two other hot tubs or pools for treatment. The training area is called the Ivan Gutfriend Training Room after the former Rider trainer of 30 odd years and the current trainer Ryan Raftis, formerly of the BC Lions, now in place, the team is hoping to avoid the streak of injuries that prevented any consistency from developing last year.
The locker room itself was designed for the players, including a barber shop off to the side so the players could cut each others hair and it sports a green and white barber sign. The old locker room had the team logo on the floor and it was a tradition not to step on the logo, but now the old logo was cut from the floor and now hangs outside the current locker room. As O’Day said when the tour started, the logo was installed before the 2007 season and the team went to four Grey Cups since then, winning two, so the logo is considered to be worth keeping around.
The interesting thing was the Q and A with the players and no questions were deemed to be off-topic. However while no one really mentioned anything about the quarterback situation, other than Naaman Roosevelt saying his knee was fully healed and he was looking forward to catching passes from Kevin Glenn (who was his quarterback for his first year with the Riders) and Vince Young, the fans, including myself, really appreciated the attitude and honesty of players like Newsome, King and Clark.
What was surprising was Newsome and Clark, both former NFL players, saying they preferred to play in Canada to avoid the situation in the United States where things are tense for African American males. By comparison Canada is more relaxed and tolerant and the players are working to have more players stay in Canada to train and work together and bond better as a team and the undercurrent was the shooting death of Joe McKnight, former Rider running back who was shot in a road rage incident in New Orleans in the off-season. Clearly his death has resonated with the team and how the team responds will be one of the interesting questions of the off-season.
With training camp coming up the bonding process for the team came up in terms of dealing with rookies. With over 100 players taking part with the Riders last season, continuity was a problem and the players mentioned the veterans want to see the rookies show how committed they are to the team success by participating in singing at training camp or getting breakfast for their position group.
Newsome explained the purpose is not to humiliate rookies, but to gauge the extent they will buy in to the concepts the team is trying to advance. The players say the extent of the Riders success will be to what degree the players will buy into what Chris Jones is trying to establish with the team.
King talked about what a thrill it was coming to Saskatchewan from Toronto where he said the fans did not get the Argo players up for games, the players had to find their own motivation for games. By comparison, King said the fan atmosphere in Saskatchewan and interest in the team made it easier to play for the team both on and off the field and he expected things would pick up even more with the new stadium.
Clark talked about the Riders first overall pick Josiah St. John who was late coming into training camp last season and fellow positional players were unsure of whether team or individual goals were first with St. John. Clark said he was pleasantly surprised with St. John peppering the vets with questions about how to train or prepare for games and seemed willing to learn. That willingness, if carried over to this season, might pay off big time for the Riders offensive line.
So with the Riders trading and signing Mike Edem, a former safety with the BC Lions who had been the first pick of Montreal in 2013, 3rd overall, the Riders seem to be stockpiling Canadians at various spots to try to establish depth, although I would not rule out a raid or two of other teams practice rosters if teams place Canadian draft picks on those rosters and the Riders think they can benefit from playing them.
Speaking of draft picks, the Riders first round pick, second overall, Cameron Judge was not offered a contract by the Houston Texans after attending a free-agent rookie camp. The move doesn’t mean Judge is cut by the Texans, but it may mean he will be up for Rider main camp next week since the NFL camps are basically full of their draft picks and free agent pick ups.
The Riders are hoping to sign a deal either Thursday or Friday and hope to have all but Antony Auclair under contract before training camp. Auclair is signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so until his situation is clarified, it is unlikely he will be seen in Saskatchewan.
So here is what the Riders are looking like, somewhat, heading into training camp.
QB- Byran Bennett, Brandon Bridge, Kevin Glenn, Vince Young
RB- Kienan LaFrance, Cameron Marshall, Greg Morris, Daniel Thomas, Quincy Walden
FB- Spencer Moore, Aaron Milton
OT- Terrence Campbell, Thaddeus Coleman, Derek Dennis, Kennedy Estelle, Jarriel King
OG- Brendon Labatte, Josiah St. John, Dillon Guy, Ryan White
C- Dan Clark, Matt Vonk
REC- Rob Bagg, Mitchell Baines, Duron Carter, Ricky Collins, Joe Craig, Nic Demski, Armanti Edwards, Antwane Grant, Bakari Grant, Caleb Holley, Thomas Mayo, Chad Owens, Desmond Reece, Naaman Roosevelt, Joshua Stanford, Jenson Stoshak,
DE- Ivan Brown, Willie Jefferson, A.C. Leonard, Jonathon Newsome, Jordan Reaves, Gary Wilkins
DT- Tobi Antigha, Linden Gaydosh, Makana Henry, Greg Millhouse, Zach Minter, Ese Mrabure, Eddie Steele
OLB- Samuel Eguavoen, Kevin Francis, Glenn Love
MLB- Alexandre Gagne, Dillon Grondin, Henoc Muamba
DB- Royce Adams, Eric Allan, Zavian Bingham, Tevaughn Campbell, Erick Dargan, Alfonzo Dennard, Ed Gainey, Tyler Hunter, Mark Roberts, Kacy Rodgers
S- Marc-Olivier Brouillette, Mike Edem, Jeff Hecht,
LS- Jorgen Hus
K/P- Robin Bartel, Tyler Crapigna, Quinn Van Gylswyk
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