Preview: Saskatchewan Roughriders open season against Edmonton
The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Edmonton Eskimos tangle in their season opener on Sunday. (Kickoff at 5pm on TSN)
The Roughriders come into the game as the favourites do to the changeover that's gone on in Edmonton in the offseason but that notion of change in Edmonton doesn't actually match reality. The Eskimos and Roughriders come into Sunday's game with the same amount of returning starters.
Although Roughriders Head Coach Greg Marshall believes the changes in Saskatchewan are not a sign of a complete overhaul, more so bad luck, "Part of our (changes) obviously we had two major occurrences in our receiving corps with Andy (Fantuz) signing in the NFL and Rob's (Bagg) injury so that created some openings. There is always some turnover no matter what the football team is and the other factor for us is we have a number of guys that would be in the starting lineup normally that are nicked up"
Tad Kornegay, Luca Congi, Rob Bagg, Brent Hawkins, Cary Koch, and Leron Mitchell will all miss not only Sunday's game but everyone except Kornegay is on the nine-game injured list.
The Edmonton Eskimos meanwhile have re-made their roster after missing the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, including 2010.
Rookie coaches' debut
Both teams also have new men running the show as Greg Marshall took over for Ken Miller as the Roughriders Head Coach after Miller resigned in the offseason, while the Eskimos have replaced Richie Hall, now Saskatchewan defensive coordinator, with Kavis Reed. Both men know it'll be an emotional night in their first ever regular season games as the boss.
"Right now the nerves are pretty good but I imagine (game day) they'll start going but I talked to the team and I said 'well me and a lot of the players are going to be first timers but one advantage (the players) have is they get to run out there and hit somebody so watch out on the sideline because I might have to hit somebody to get rid of my butterflies,'" said Marshall in his pre-game meeting with the media.
Reed is just trying to focus on his job, "I don't think it's going to be that big of a thing, I know there will be some emotions but the most important thing is I keep the environment the right way so we can win."
What both teams do have going for them is none of the changes they're facing come behind centre as Darian Durant and Ricky Ray will lead their respective teams out of the tunnel at Mosaic Stadium. Two quarterbacks who have a lot of respect from their opponents.
"Ricky's one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now and we know that no matter what the year is or what the time is he's going to be ready to play and we know he can make big plays so we have to get after him a little bit and get him out of his rythm," veteran linebacker Barrin Simpson admitted.
As for the Eskimos thoughts on Darian Durant, Coach Reed has seen his ability up close and personal when Reed was the running backs/special teams coach in Saskatchewan in 2009, "Darian is a three dimensional quarterback because he can beat you with his arm, his legs and he's very intelligent so we have to do some things in order to confuse him and make his reads a little bit difficult. I've seen that young man take over football games, he's a fierce competitor and he doesn't accept failure very well in the way he'll do everything he can (to win) so it's going to be a Herculean effort to try and contain him"
However, the quarterbacks may be the same but the offenses around them have changed.
For Durant it's his receiving corps as Efrem Hill, Terrence Nunn and Ernie Wheelwright are all new receivers to the team and could all start on Sunday. Coach Marshall knows the quarterback and receivers aren't going to gel immediately.
"It's not going to happen overnight but the good thing about it is they've all been here since training camp, they've had the opportunity to practice every day with Darian and in our offence that they understand what we're trying to do and now it's just a matter of getting in the game and producing"
In Edmonton, the Eskimos new offensive coordinator Marcus Crandell is changing things up, leading to Ricky Ray having to adjust to a new system.
"It's tough because I'm learning a new system and it's getting used to the reads, getting comfortable with the new guys that are out there that takes some time but we have to be able to overcome those things."
Playing for first
Although it's only Week One of the CFL season, this divisional battle has both sides battling for first place in the West Division. With Calgary and B.C. losing earlier in the week, the winner of Sunday's contest will have a 1-0 record and be the only team in the West with a victory.
Something not lost on Durant, "Any time you can be alone in first place, no matter at what point of the season, is a good thing. It's an opportunity for us, we have a lot of doubters and a lot of people who have written us off so we take it as a challenge so it's an opportunity for us to go out there and get on top and hopefully stay there."
News and Notes
The Roughriders have made some changes to their 46-man roster ahead of Sunday's game. Receiver Cary Koch was added to the nine-game injured list and defensive back Tad Kornegay has been placed on the one-game injured list. Linebacker Chris Graham and non-import defensive lineman Mathieu Boulay were added. Graham may get to play if linebacker Jerrell Freeman is unavailable because of an abdominal injury.
With 94 yards passing on Sunday, Ricky Ray will pass Kent Austin to move into 10th on the CFL's all-time passing yards list.