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Monthly Archives: May 2008

Here’s a little trip down memory lane…

WOO HOO!!!!!!!!

Yours truly now has tickets to BOTH the Riders’ home opener AND Labour Day!! Mom – I love you!!

And I must make an addendum to Monday’s note about Rider receivers. Seems I missed an important. Well, one that could become VERY important.

Adarius Bowman is an import receiver who very likely would have gone in either the first or second round of the NFL College Draft had he not elected to smoke a few joints. As a result, he’s fallen off the NFL’s radar and is now looking to get ‘back in the game’ up here.

ET is pretty high on him, despite his past issues. He’s a big guy with speed and great hands according to his former coach and ET. If he develops the way they’d like, he could be a HUGE find for the Riders. Here’s some footage of him from Oklahoma State. Stay tuned…

And if you’d like even more info on our beloved Riders, here are two great sights for ‘inside’ information:

Rod Pedersen’s blog – Rider Radio play-by-play man Rod Pedersen updates daily with his opinions and usually posts transcripts of post-practice scrums and whatnot.

Rider Rumblings – The Leader-Post’s Rider blog with content from Rider beat writers Darrell Davis and Rob Vanstone. Lots of good reading and info.

The Green Zone – Courtesy of NewsTalk650/980, it posts audio of pretty much all newsers, press conferences, media scrums, player interviews, etc.

Rider Blitz – A new site I found courtesy of another blog. Looks great!

So let’s get to it! Today is special teams/running backs day and a look at the hated Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

RIDERS SPECIAL TEAMS/RUNNING BACKS

I think it’s fair to say that kicker Luca Congi (still my favourite name in all of the CFL) had a sophomore slump of sorts. But he wasn’t horrible by any means. Remember the 6 field goals he made in the Western Semi-final versus Calgary? If not for him connecting on all six attempts, the Riders wouldn’t have won that game. I expect him to have a better 2008 season.

Jamie Boreham had a decent season. His average punt was 42.0 yards; not great, but decent. Probably has something to do with the wind at Taylor Field. But his kickoff average was 62.9 yards, tops in the league. He should improve his punting average this year and have a good season.

The Riders had good special teams coverage last season, minus a few bad plays. Where they struggled was in RETURNING kickoffs/punts. Neither Jason Armstead nor Corey Holmes exploded for more than 20 yards on returns. And neither returned a kickoff/punt for a touchdown. The Riders need to find SOMEONE who can give them better field position on a regular basis. Corey Holmes was released in the off-season, so the competition is wide open.

Wes Cates comes into camp as the Riders’ starting running back. He had a solid 2007 season with 866 yards on the ground and another 452 through the air. Remember that he only played 14 games – he hurt his foot late in the season, which hampered his abilities. The Riders have brought in a number of other running backs to push Cates and vie for the backup position.

Here’s the transcript of the scrum after yesterday’s 1st rookie camp practice. Ken Miller answers questions about running backs:

Q. You have a couple of former NFL running backs on your roster in Griffen and Robertson. Do you see them pushing Wes Cates or creating a two-headed attack?

MILLER: THEY HAVE A LOT OF ABILITY .. THEY MOVE WELL, WE SAW THEM CATCH THE BALL WELL TODAY. WE NEED TO WATCH THEM IN LIVE ACTION TO TELL FOR SURE, BUT THEY HAVE THOSE CREDENTIALS. BUT WES IS OUR #1 GUY AS WE SPEAK.

Q. Is running back a real position of strength for this football club?

MILLER: EXCELLENT DEPTH. IT REALLY IS. I’M ANXIOUS TO SEE HOW THAT PLAYS OUT.

The key to success in the CFL is finding young talent, and that’s exactly what Tillman is doing. Remember that no one had ever heard of Joe Smith three years ago, and now he’s one of the league’s premier backs.

The fullback position remains Chris Szarka’s. Every year I keep hoping he’ll get more touches and every year I’m disappointed. Maybe this will be the year?? Neal Hughes will continue to be his back up and play an important role on special teams.

“What Hurts the Most” – WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Oh you poor, poor, poor, poooooooooooor Blue Bombers. Oh so close to that Grey Cup, but yet so very far.

The Blue Bombers will be very good this year. Their offense will be strong with the return of QB Kevin Glenn (5000+ yards passing last year; runner-up for MOP), running back Charles Roberts (2nd in league rushing yards) and receivers Terrence Edwards, Derrick Armstrong and Milt Stegall (all three had 1100+ yards receiving; the Riders only had ONE receiver with 1000+ yards – DJ Flick with 1020). Their offensive line is solid, too. Their weakness is kicking. Troy Westwood is getting old. I’m not gonna lie – I can’t stand the guy. His field goal percentage last year was 60.6% – worst in the league.

Winnipeg’s defence was one of the top -ranked in the league in 2007, led by Tom Canada and Doug Brown at DE and DT, respectively, and Kelly Malveaux at DB. The Blue Bombers do have a large hole to fill in their defensive backfield with the loss of Kyries Hebert, who bolted to the NFL. The Bombers haven’t brought anyone in to replace him, so it looks as if they’re hoping to promote from within.

Head coach Doug Berry returns and GM Brendan Taman continues to do a great job; he resigned 7 of 8 free agents this offseason.

As much as I hate to say it, the Bombers will be contenders this year.

Yuck.

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RIDERS’ OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE LINES

So EVERYBODY is talking about the loss of Fred Perry at DE. Yeah, I know it sucks. But just remember: we lost a couple of other guys from the D-line last year, and a little-known guy named John Chick won the starting job. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Chick has a PHENOMENAL season in 2007. He was a huge force coming off the end, and was a big reason why the Riders were #1 or 2 (depending on the category you look at) in the league in stopping the run. Combined with Perry, Schultz and Adams, the Riders were near the top of the pack in sacks. They finished the season in the middle, but their run defence was still tops – and a HUGE part of the reason they won the Grey Cup. To win Lord Grey’s trophy, they had to stop Joffrey Reynolds (Calgary), Joe Smith (BC) AND Charles Roberts (Winnipeg). Enough said.

Because the defensive line dominated, the Riders’ defensive backfield had an easier time. And lucky for them, the d-line saved them more than a few times – especially since the backfield can’t stop 2nd and long. I promise – that’s the first and only time I’ll say that. Well, for today.

The loss of Perry on the end isn’t the end of the world. Especially when Kitwana Jones is next on the depth chart. Jones moved between linebacker and DE, and did great work on special teams. He’s speedy and flies around the field. We’ll be more than okay. He should fit in nicely. Ronald Flemons, whom Saskatchewan got in the KJ trade, could also challenge for the spot.

As for the O-line, well, it could use a little work. KJ often had to run his ass of to get the Riders out of trouble. And during the Grey Cup game it became quite apparent that offensive line was not up to the challenge. Jeremy O’Day will return at center, Gene Makowsky at left tackle and Mike Abou-Mechrek at right guard. These guys ain’t the problem. Trust me. All three are all-star linemen, and Makowsky is a two-time lineman of the year. The problem is the other two positions: left guard and right tackle. The right tackle spot is up for grabs since Jermese Jones signed with Calgary. He had an okay year, but wasn’t at the level of the other three. Neither is Wayne Smith.

The Riders are bringing in quite a few o-linemen to camp to try and upgrade the talent in that area. It should be quite the battle.

“I Don’t Want to Hear it Anymore” – HAMILTON TIGER CATS

There’s nowhere to go but ‘up’ for the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Looking at their roster, I hardly recognize any of the names. And that’s a problem.

I really feel bad for Ti-Cat fans. Outside of Rider fans, they are the most dedicated fans in the league. They truly deserve a good football team.

Hamilton will continue to try and find its way this season. They have a new GM is Bob O’Billovich, which is a good thing. He’s been around the CFL forever and has tons of contacts. He should bring in lots of good new talent. Plus, owner Bob Young continues to do whatever it takes to build a winner in Hamilton. He is competely committed to reviving the franchise and giving the team whatever it needs to get the job done.

Head coach Charlie Taafe is back for his 2nd season. And despite the lack of notable names on the roster list, Taafe does have two bright spots: Casey Printers and Jesse Lumsden. Printers only played a handful of games for the Ti-Cats last season, so having him as the starter from the first kickoff already significantly makes the Ti-Cats better. Lumsden would have easily surpassed 1000 yards in his first CFL season if he hadn’t been injured. He is the spark plug for the Hamilton offence and if healthy, he can be a game breaker.

The problem is that a team consists of more than a QB and a running back. Printers doesn’t have a go-to receiver to pass the ball to; Jason Armstead was released last week. And Lumsden doesn’t have much of an O-line to block for him.

As for the defence, I can’t name one person who plays defence for the Ti-Cats. Not good.

The Ti-Cats will win more games than last year, but not many. They continue to rebuild. Until they can attract proven, veteran free agents and convince them that Hamilton is on the upswing, they will continue to struggle.

I really, really, really need to STOP staying up until 4 am. Seriously. I know I’m a night owl, but going to bed at 3 and 4 am on a regular basis is tiring me out. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be. Or think I am…

Did you watch the Red Wings/Penguins game last night? If you didn’t, you didn’t miss a whole hell of a lot. The Penguins had no forecheck and therefore – no attack. Why did CBC have to lose its feed from Detroit right when Gary Roberts is pummelling Johan Franzen?? Geez!! And the Oscar for Best Diving in a Stanley Cup Playoff Game goes to…Chris Osgood! He drew two penalties last night. The first one was the one that did the Penguins in. Even my brother, a Red Wings fan, decried Malone’s penalty.

But let’s get back to FOOTBALL!!!!

Today’s stop on the Rider Preview Train (wow – what a sad, sad phrase; but I’m too tired to erase it and think of something better) is the Riders’ defensive backfield. Then we’ll take a look at the Toronto Argonauts.

“There’s Your Trouble” – RIDERS DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

The Rider defence was equal parts good and bad last season. The good? The Riders’ defence ranked #1 or #2 against the rush. The bad? The Riders’ defence ranked #7 or #8 against the pass. Definitely a Jekyll and Hyde thing.

So the Riders need to get better against the pass, something I’ve been saying for, well, awhile. The Riders CANNOT stop 2nd and long. Seriously. I swear – offences have converted 2nd and 25 situations on a regular basis against the Riders ‘D.’

Now you might be saying, “Well, defence wins championships, and aren’t the Riders the Grey Cup champs?” Yes. But y’all know that there were a couple of scary moments in that Rider game when Bomber receivers got in behind their cover guys and made big gains. BIG gains. If the Riders want to repeat as Grey Cup champs, they need to figure out a way to stop 2nd and long.

And how might they do that? Well, maybe the defensive scheme needs to be tweaked just a little. I know defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall is a football god in Saskatchewan – and rightfully so; he’s one of only two people who can say they won TWO Grey Cups with the Riders. BUT – he needs to be pushed to find coverage that helps his guys on the field stop 2nd and long.

I know I keep harping on ‘stop 2nd and long,’ but if a team converts a 2nd and long situation, it can be a game/momentum changer. Remember the Western Final vs. BC in 2005 when the Riders lost to the Lions in OT? Of course you do. Well, the Riders had BC in a 3rd and 19 situation with under a minute to go. If BC can’t convert it’s game over: Riders go to the Grey Cup. BC converted with a pass to Jason Clermont. Two more passes and they’re in field goal range. O’Mahony ties the game with a field goal and in OT the Lions win. THAT’S WHY YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO STOP 2ND AND LONG!!!!!!!! I think I’ve made my point.

The good news is that the Riders resigned long-time Rider veteran Eddie Davis. Davis will be entering his 8th season with the Green and White this year. I was actually surprised Davis resigned; I was sure he was going to go to Calgary. His family is based in Calgary, Henry Burris is one of his best friends, Calgary has a new head coach – the stars seemed to be aligned. But Davis came back.

Omarr Morgan is also returning after a year with the Eskimos. Morgan came into the league as a Rider and sure as hell should have been with them last year to win the Grey Cup. I actually feel bad for the guy. He went through those tough first couple of years when the Riders were rebuilding under Danny Barrett and Roy Shivers and deserved to win a Grey Cup with the Riders. But, he chose to leave. Hopefully the Riders can win another with him on board.

The great thing about having both Morgan AND Davis in the backfield is that they’re both veterans with tons of experience. It’ll be like having TWO on-field coaches. The Riders’ pass defence suffered a lot when Davis was out 9 games with a shoulder injury. If either Morgan or Davis is hurt during the course of the season, it’ll be nice to have another veteran to lean on. Davis was instrumental is keeping the defensive backfield competitive last season, as the Riders had lost many a veteran prior to the 2007 season (Omarr Morgan, Jackie Mitchell, Davin Bush, and others).

But if BOTH succumb to injury at some point (eeeek!), the Riders have a number of good options. Lance Frazier started at DB in the Grey Cup and had a solid 8 games. Rontarius Robinson had 40 tackles last year and became more consistent at the DB position. A couple of other young’uns will be at camp, too, battling for backup spots.

The cornerback positions are solid as well. Grey Cup MVP James Johnson (remember him and his THREE interceptions? And the one returned for a TD?) is back and can hopefully build on his solid sophomore season. Airabin Justin continues to develop into a solid cornerback, but may be challenged at camp by Frazier or Robinson, both of whom may shift to CB.

The safety position is a bit of a toss-up between Canadian Scott Gordon and Tristan Clovis. Clovis started the first half of the season, and once Gordon was healthy, he started the last half and the playoff games. Gordon may have an edge with his hard-hitting ability. He’s made quite a few bone-crushing hits over the years.

That leaves us with the linebackers. And the Riders lost their most prominent linebacker in the off-season when Reggie Hunt signed with the Montreal Alouettes as a free agent. ‘The Reaper’ didn’t have a standout season, but he picked up his game in the playoffs and was a big reason why the Riders were able to climb over both the Stamps and the Lions to get to the big game. The competition for his starting job will be between Mike McCullough, Anton McKenzie, Dustin Cherniawski, and TJ Stancil, all of whom played well last season when given the chance.

The other two linebacker spots belong to Maurice Lloyd and Sean Lucas. Lloyd was the more dominant of the two, only one tackle shy (69) of top spot on the team (70). He flies around the field, making things happen, and is more than capable of filling ‘The Reaper’s’ shoes. But Lucas wasn’t exactly shabby last year; he had 61 tackles of his own. These two make a good starting tandem. Hopefully one of the above-mentioned players can help create a formidable trio.

I promise I’m going to only say it one more time, but if the Riders want to repeat, they HAVE to solve the ‘2nd and long’ problem. Enough said.

“Only What You Make of It” – TORONTO ARGONAUTS

It only seems appropriate to review the Argos the day before their former starting QB and future CFL Hall of Famer, Damon Allen, will announce his retirement. I’m not going to write an ode of praise to Allen because enough of that will be done tomorrow and the next day. And I’m not going to even try to rank him in terms of his place among CFL QB greats. I think his 72,000+ yards passing speak for themselves, as well as his longevity. Not every QB has their best year at the age of 42.

Allen’s retirement is welcome news for the Argos. Allen has become a distraction of sorts for the Argos. What do you do when pro football’s all-time leading passer thinks he can still compete but he clearly can’t? You can’t push him out the door and say, “Thanks for the 2005 Grey Cup ring, but you know what Damon? You’re too damn old to play anymore.” Well, I guess you CAN, but you definitely shouldn’t. The Argos needed to let Allen decide his own future and his own timeline for retirement.

So now that the Allen era is over, the Argos need to find their next starter. And who better than last year’s MOP, Kerry Joseph?

(Ugh. I’m still bitter about that whole trade. I just don’t think one good year qualifies you as an elite QB. Look at Marcus Crandell. Sure he won the 2001 Grey Cup and was the Grey Cup MVP, but he sure as hell didn’t make $350,000 the next season. But whatever. KJ is now the enemy.)

The Argos have Michael Bishop as their backup QB, though they’ve publicly stated that the starting position is up for grabs. But come on. You don’t trade for the league MVP, pay him $350,000 for the year and then tell him he may have to ride the bench. Bishop will be the backup, KJ will start. But new head coach Rich Stubler won’t hesitate to yank Joseph if he struggles – which a little part of me hopes he does. Yeah. I’ll be holding a grudge against KJ until he retires.

The Argos’ defence will continue to be stellar; they were at or very near the top in almost every defensive category last season. And in spite of the fact that he will be focusing on head coaching duties, I can’t imagine Stubler will turn a blind eye to his defence. He’s still have a hand in it.

The D-line is led by Adrianno Belli and Jonathan Brown, both of whom had career years for the Boatmen. Kevin Eiben continues to develop into one of the best linebackers in the league – and he’s CANADIAN! Mike O’Shea will come back and continue to defy his age. Michael Fletcher will return; he’s one of the most consistently good linebackers in the league.

In the backfield, Orlando Steinhauer leads from his spot at safety. His teammates are not as experienced, but are speedy and a quick study. They’ll have to replace Jordan Younger and his 50ish tackles at CB which puts them a step behind where they were last year.

On offence, I’ve already stated the Argos improved their QB position by acquiring Kerry Joseph. He’ll have to use his legs a lot, as the Argos don’t have a #1 running back. John Avery was released in the off-season after an injury-laden couple of seasons. Dominique Dorsey and Tyler Ebell will battle it out for the starting spot.

Toronto’s receiving corps will be a little different this season, but two key players return (according to CFL.ca, Andre Talbot will have to relinquish his #4 jersey to Joseph. You can’t have two players with the same number!). Arland Bruce is always a threat, and so is Talbot if given space. TJ Acree will probably nab a starting spot as will Bethel Johnson – if he pans out. The Argos always sign these NFL castoffs; they rarely work out.

Noel Prefontaine returns as placekicker. Last year wasn’t his best year, but he’s one of the most consistent placekickers in the league. Maybe it has something to do with the fact he plays 9 games INDOORS. Just sayin’…

Maxime Bernier’s star has exploded.

And not in a good way.

The former ‘future star’ of the Conservative party had his term as Foreign Affairs Minister come to an abrupt halt Monday afternoon when PM Harper announced he had accepted Bernier’s resignation. This comes after a string of flubs by the former minister who has been the repeated target of many a Question Period over the last number of months.

The final straw, so to speak, was the fact Bernier left secret government NATO documets of a sensitive nature (reportedly about NATO’s military strategy in Afghanistan) at the home of his fomer girlfriend. This was a security breach, and one for which Bernier had to pay. And he has.

While leaving classified documents at his former girlfriend’s house will be the butt of many jokes in the coming weeks, this was only the latest, and most fatal, in a string of gaffes by both Bernier and the Foreign Affairs department.

Last month Bernier said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai should replace the governor of Kandahar because of the corruption inherent in local Afghan governments. Smooth move, buddy. Especially when Canadian troops are in the southern part of Afghanistan. You don’t suggest the deposition of a leader of another country. While it’s not against international law, you have to be diplomatic. Especially when you require the cooperation of the Afghan government so your troops don’t get killed.

And then, of course, there was the whole ‘we’re going to airlift supplies to Burma’ idea that backfired when they realized there weren’t any actual AIRPLANES to airlift said supplies to Burma. So they had to rent a plane from RUSSIA. W.T.F??

The fact is, Bernier wasn’t a good Foreign Affairs minister. Neither was Peter Mackay, even with all of the oogling his did at US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Why the Conservatives have had such trouble with this portfolio is beyond me. Well, maybe I do know why.

The Conservatives were a good government when they had their ‘5 Priorities.’ They were focused and the government was efficient; no one can argue with that. Since then, though, it’s as if the Conservatives have been sliding around, not really sure what issue to deal with next. They tried the environment – that backfired big time. Remember Rona Ambrose? She, too, was a vaunted member of Harper’s first Cabinet, marked as a possible future candidate for a senior cabinet post. She’s now a backbencher. And Bernier will soon be, too.

Harper needs to take the summer break to refocus his team – especially in regards to the Foreign Affairs portfolio. It has no direction. What, exactly, are their goals for Canada’s foreign policy? I don’t think they know. And until they do, they’ll continue their string of miscues.

The interesting thing will be watching how the Liberals handle this. They’ve been given a ‘gift’ of sorts by Harper. If they can’t knock this one out of the park, then Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is in worse shape than I thought…

Only SIX more sleeps until training camp opens, Rider Priders! Rookie camp opens on Wednesday, but the main camp begins on Sunday, June 2nd.

So in preparation, and celebration, for training camp, I’m going to give you a ‘season preview’ of sorts. For the next six days I will look at six different facets of the Roughriders, as well as one other CFL team.

Today we start with the Rider receivers and look at the Montreal Alouettes.

“Learn to Fly” – RIDER RECEIVERS

I love it when managers are honest. It’s refreshing. During the offseason, Rider GM Eric Tillman repeatedly stated that while the 2007 Riders won the Grey Cup, they were by no means the most talented group in the CFL. He said that in order for the Riders to continue to compete at a high level and challenge for the Grey Cup year after year, the team would have to strive to upgrade at every position each and every offseason – regardless of where the team finished in the standings. Tillman has admitted that the Riders have needed to significantly improve their talent at the receiver position.

The Rider receiving core consists of Matt Dominguez, Andy Fantuz and DJ Flick. The heart and soul of the Rider offence, and arguably the team, is ‘Big D,’ Matt Dominguez. Thank goodness he resigned with the Riders in February as a free agent. Losing him would’ve been a huge blow to a resurgent Rider offence.

Dominguez had a disappointing 2007 season. But it started off well. Before his season-ending knee injury incurred during the Banjo Bowl in early September, Dominguez was leading the league with 45 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately Dominguez has sustained this type of injury before; his 2005 season ended abruptly after 2 games when another knee injury forced him to the sidelines. He bounced back in 2006 with an 1100 yard season and was named a West Division All-Star. For the Riders to get back to the Grey Cup, Dominguez will have to regain his top form (note that Dominguez has never started all 18 games in a season. The closest he came was 17 games in 2006. Because of this, I wonder if we’ve ever actually seen Dominguez at his best…). Dominguez’s health is one of the top concerns for the Riders going into the 2008 season.

The Riders’ number two receiver, and number one in the absence of Matt Dominguez, is undoubtedly non-import Andy Fantuz. Andy had the opposite start to his season compared to Dominguez. To put it bluntly, Fantuz was awful. He kept fighting the ball, unable to catch the simplest screen pass. My nickname for him was ‘Flat-foot Fantuz’ for the first half of the season. He was even benched by Kent Austin early in the season. But the second half of the season was Fantuz’s ‘coming out’ party of sorts. After Dominguez went down, Andy kicked it into high gear. He was named Canadian Player for the month of September and was Canadian Player of the week three times. And of course you remember that he had the Riders’ only offensive touchdown in the Grey Cup game and was named the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Canadian. He finished just shy of the 1000 yard mark for receiving yards, but I expect him to easily surpass that mark this year.

DJ Flick DID have a 1000 yard season in his first with the Riders. Flick was acquired by the Riders prior to the 2007 season in a trade with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Flick’s speed was a great weapon for the Riders, and halfway through the season he led the league in receiving touchdowns. Although the second half of the Riders’ season was led by Fantuz, Flick continued to quietly make catch after catch, ending up with 40-odd more yards than Fantuz. And who can forget some of those circus catches he made last year. Wow. Flick should continue to be a consistent receiver for the Riders this season.

The Riders resigned veteran journeyman receiver Corey Grant in the off season. Grant doesn’t play a whole lot, but when he does, he usually makes an impact. Mike Washington is also back. He’s tall like Dominguez and Fantuz and could be the same type of player. He only started 9 games for the Riders last year before he hurt his knee. I expect he’ll get more playing time this year if he’s healthy – and if he beats out the competition Tillman is bringing in. Canadians Michael Palmer and David McKoy, both of whom only saw limited action last year, will also battle for roster spots.

According to the Riders’ current roster, there are 9 other receivers who will be at training camp, looking to make the team. Former Regina Ram Chris Getzlaf could be another Andy Fantuz; he’s built the same way. He had a short, but distinguished, CIS career. The Riders see him as a possible future star. And how great would it be to have TWO CANADIAN star receivers?? Out of the other receivers coming to camp, Weston Dressler is one to watch, though he’s only 5’8; then again, Flick is only 5’9. Dressler was a star at UND. It remains to be seen if he can adapt to the Canadian game. Dawon Fowlkes and Vincent Marshall are others to watch. Both are small but speedy. Princeton Shepherd might be interesting. He played quarterback in college and one year rushed for 903 yards. What stands out is his size – 6’5 and 210 pounds. He’s taller than both Dominguez and Fantuz.

So what do we make of the Riders’ offseason moves in this area? Well, in the CFL it’s all about scouting and finding talent. The BC Lions have the league’s most talented receivers, and none of them were well-known names before quietly establishing themselves. The Riders are hoping they can do the same. The CFL held ‘state of the league’ conference calls with each CFL a few weeks ago, and Tillman said he believed the team added more speed to their receiving core. I’m hoping Mike Washington will turn into a solid fourth receiver for the Riders because he has the size, speed and great hands. It depends on him remaining healthy. And having Dominguez start all 18 games for the Riders would go a long way to helping the Riders defend their Grey Cup title.

“Fall From Grace” – MONTREAL ALOUETTES

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about the Montreal Alouettes’ troubles in the 2007 season. The Als were a talented team, but couldn’t seem to get it together on a consistent basis; hence their 8-10 finish in the East Division last year, only good enough for third place. A lot of the blame for last year’s failed season was the fact GM Jim Popp also doubled as head coach. Apparently he caused a lot of friction in the locker room. The head coaching duties have been taken away and give to rookie CFL head coach Mark Trestman.

Lucky for Trestman, he’s got Anthony Calvillo as his quarterback. The incomparable Calvillo is one of the league’s elite QBs, but he’ll be 36 this year and 2007 was his ‘worst’ season since 2001; for only the second time in eight seasons Calvillo passed for less than 4000 yards. But even Calvillo’s ‘worst’ is better than some QBs ‘best.’ And yeah – that applies to Kerry Joseph. The Als’ hopes rest heavily on Calvillo’s shoulders. If Calvillo is healthy, the Als will have a decent season. If he’s hurt, the Als will suffer. Marcus Brady is an okay QB, but he’s no Calvillo.

Kai Ellis, Davis Sanchez and Anwar Stewart lead a solid, but not explosive or imposing, defence. The addition of Reggie Hunt should help them be a bit better than last year. The Als have a good defensive backfield, but are weaker up front. Under Don Matthews, the Als had a formidable pass rush. They’d blitz on second and long every single time. And they won a hell of a lot of games playing that way. The Als have moved away from that high risk/reward defence and it shows. The key to beating the Als used to be getting the ball off quickly about 10 yards down field into the empty space behind the blitzing line. The Als have lost their pass rush, the key to ANY successful defence. The pass rush makes it difficult for the QB to get the ball off and swallows any running back who tries to get through. The Als need to regain their defensive prowess to get to the top of the East Division again.

As for their offence, the Alouettes desperately need a running back. The loss of Robert Edwards seriously hurt the Als last year, as they were forced to rely on their passing game. They’ve got a solid group of receivers with Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins and Elijah Thurmon (side note: it’ll be interesting to see where former Rider receiver Jamel Richardson will fit in on the team). But if you don’t have a running back, it frees up extra men for the backfield to cover the receivers. The Als need a running back. Period. Damon Duval continues to be a consistent punter/kicker.

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

After what has felt like EONS, it’s time for Saskatchewan’s favourite (and only) team to take the field and defend their 2007 Grey Cup Championship title!

And I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO excited!!

Oh my gosh, I cannot tell you how long I have waited for Rider football! The anticipation for this year has been at fever pitch for me for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that we’re the DEFENDING GREY CUP CHAMPIONS!! When’s the last time we could say that (1990, in case you didn’t know)? The second is because of all the changes the organizations has gone through in the past number of months. The Riders of 2008 will be/are COMPLETELY different than those that hoisted the Grey Cup in November.

I picked the title of this post from a song by KT Tunstall. The Riders’ fortunes this year are possibly more uncertain than they have been in awhile. But, I have faith in GM Eric Tillman and trust his football judgment. We also have a good nucleus of players and solid leadership. Yet, many question marks remain. How will the Riders respond to the pressure of being Grey Cup champs? Is Ken Miller able to come out from Kent Austin’s shadow and put his own stamp on the team? Is he capable of leading the Riders to another Grey Cup? Will Marcus Crandell be able to regain the form that made him the 2001 Grey Cup MVP? Will Matt Dominguez’s knee hold up? How will the defence manage without Reggie Hunt in the backfield? Who will fill the hole left by Fred Perry on the defensive line?

And those are only a few questions. Trust me – there are a whole lot more.

But there’s a beauty in all of this uncertainty: it’ll be one HELL of a ride this season!!

Buckle your seatbelts, folks, and get our your RIDER PRIDE! Football season is finally here!!

1. Last beverage → Water
2. Last phone call → My sister, yesterday morning.
3. Last instant message → Melanie
4. Last song you listened to → ‘Where Would You Be,’ Martina McBride on the way home from work. And I definitely sang along. Loudly.
5. Last time you cried → Honestly, I can’t remember. I felt like it last week at a couple of points, though.
6. Last text message → From Melanie!

SIX HAVE YOU EVER:
1. Dated someone twice → No. That would require dating.
2. Been cheated on → See above answer.
3. Kissed someone & regretted it → No.
4. Lost someone special → Yes.
5. Been depressed → Yes. 2005-2007. The period would have been a lot shorter had I REALIZED I was depressed.

LIST THREE FAVORITE COLOURS:
Honestly, this changes ALL THE TIME. But right now…
1. purple
2. green
3. grey

THIS MONTH HAVE YOU:
1. Made a new friend → Yes. The ONLY good thing about Walmart!
2. Fallen out of love → I think I’m in the process of it.
3. Laughed until you cried → Yes!!
4. Met someone who changed your life → Ask me in a year.
5. Found out who your true friends were → I already know who my true friends are.
6. Found out someone was talking about you → Yes. And I wasn’t terribly surprised.
7. Have you kissed anyone on your friend’s list → What friend and what list?
8. How many people on your friends list do you know in real life → Again: what friend and what list?
9. How many kids do you want to have → 4. One is too few. Two only leaves you with one when the first one leaves home. Three is an uneven number, and I can’t have that; one will always be left out. Four is perfect.
10. Do you have any pets → Sadie. She may live with my parents, but I still consider her my pet!
11. Do you want to change your name → My last name. Desperately.
12. What did you get for your last birthday → I have no idea. Sorry Mom…
13. What time did you wake up today → 9:30 am
14. What were you doing at midnight last night → Playing ‘The Sims 2: Pets’ on my new Wii.
15. Name something you CANNOT wait for → RIDER FOOTBALL!!!!
16. Last time you saw your father → Yesterday 🙂
17. What is one thing you wish you could change about your life → I wish I knew when law school acceptance letters went out. That’d clarify a few things for me.
18. What are you listening to right now → Possibly the most beautiful music ever written. Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no. 2 – Second Movement. Lang Lang and Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. I can’t listen to it enough.
19. Have you ever talked to a person named Tom → Yes.
20. Who’s getting on your nerves right now → Ha! Do I have to only name one person?
21. Most visited webpage → A tie between Facebook and The Globe and Mail. I know. What an odd combination.

001. What’s your real name – Nicole Lindsey Kim
002. Nicknames → Niki, Nicholas (a name I hate, but which my family insists on continuing to call me)
003. Status → Single
004. Zodiac sign → Libra
005. Male or female → Female
006. Elementary → Rosthern Elementary
007. Middle School → Rosthern High
008. Highschool → Rosthern Junior College
009. University → U of R/Vancouver Academy of Music/U of S
010. Hair colour → Naturally: dark brown. Currently: Dark red with light copper highlights.
011. Long or short – Medium length.
012. Are you a health freak → Heavens, no.
013. Height → 5’2″
017. Do you have a crush on someone → I did/do. But I always have crushses. A new one will come along soon, I’m sure.
018: What do you like about yourself → I’m intelligent, funny, unique, musical, have beautiful blue eyes, wavy hair and cute little toes. And I’m the bestest Rider fan!
021. Righty or lefty → Righty. Though I shoot left in hockey. Have no idea why.

FIRSTS :
022. First surgery → I was in Grade 2. I was on roller skates in my grandparent’s basement. They had just bought the house, so the basement was unfinished; the floor was concrete. My brother and his friend were running around; my brother knocked me down while running with this little play grocery shopping cart. I fell awkwardly and let out a blood-curdling scream. Apparently my arm was in an ‘S’ shape. I had to be put under in order for them to pull in back together. Nice. I stayed in the hospital overnight; luckily my Mom was working. She took me home in the morning, ’cause I refused to stay in the hospital any longer. Typical stubborn me.
023. First piercing → Ears. November 11, 2005. I was definitely 23. And definitely scared.
024. First best friend → Melanie Zacharias. Bus seat buddies forever!
025. First award → Probably my 1st music festival award I won in Duck Lake. I was probably 8 or 9.
026. First sport you joined → Baseball. I really wanted to be a pitcher, like my Grandpa, but I wasn’t any good. Can’t remember how old I was.
027. First pet → My beloved dog, Barkley! She was named after the dog ‘Barkely’ on Sesame Street. And in true Hamm family tradition, we named the dog before realizing she was a she.
028. First vacation –> My first big trip was to Nebraska when I was in Grade 1 to see my aunt graduate.
029. First concert → Seriously – I think it was the Rankin Family. But they were good.
030. First crush → Grade 3. Ryan Kowalchuk. Yikes.
CURRENTLY :
049. Eating → Sour Cream ‘n’ Onion chips. And I shouldn’t be.
050. Drinking → Nothing.
052. I’m about to → Go to bed. Eventually.
053. Listening to → ‘Pendulums’ by Sarah Harmer.
055. Waiting for → Uh, nothing. Life to begin?

YOUR FUTURE :
058. Want kids → Yes, yes, yes and yes.
059. Want to get married → For sure.
060. Careers in mind → Politician (though I don’t like that word; too many bad connotations; maybe diplomat?), Prime Minister, lawyer, work for the United Nations, work in the public service for a ministry/department, policy maker.

WHICH IS BETTER WITH THE OPPOSITE SEX?:
068. Lips or eyes → Eyes.
069. Hugs or kisses → Hugs. Cuddling is good. 🙂
070. Shorter or taller → Taller. Not difficult.
071. Older or Younger→ Older. But not a whole lot.
072. Romantic or spontaneous → Both.
073. Nice stomach or nice arms → Arms.
074. Sensitive or loud → Both.
075. Hook-up or relationship → Relationship. Definitely.
077. Trouble maker or hesitant → Trouble-maker. At least they’re decisive.

HAVE YOU EVER :
078. Kissed a stranger → Uh, no.
079. Drank pepsi → Ugh. I hate pop. Too fizzy.
080. Lost glasses/contacts → Contacts, yes. Glasses, no.
081. Ran away from home → Oh yeah. Never got far.
084. Broken someone’s heart → Surprisingly, yes.
085. Been arrested → Ha! Almost! Well, I like to think so! When I was in Toronto for a choir trip, we scalped tickets to a Maple Leafs game. A few minutes after we bought our tickets, our scalper was arrested! I sat in my seat the entire game freaked out. And the Leafs won in OT 3-2 to the Atlanta Thrashers. They sucked then and they suck now. Some things never change.
086. Turned someone down → Yes.
087. Cried when someone died → Yes. Profusely.
088. Liked a guy friend? Yep.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN:
089. Yourself → More and more each day.
090. Miracles → Yes.
091. Love at first sight → Yes and no.
092. Heaven → For sure.
093. Santa Claus → No.
095. Kiss on the first date → Depends.
096. Angels → Yes.

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY:
097. Is there one person you want to be with right now → Yes.
098. Had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend at one time → Uh, no.
099. Do you believe in God → Absolutely.
100. Posting this as 100 Truths → Yes.

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