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Rod Pedersen is the play-by-play voice of the Riders. He is a weekly contributor to Riderville.com, sharing his point of view on news from the green and white.
It still takes some getting used to.
Sitting across the table from Roughrider Assistant GM Jeremy O’Day, you’re struck by the sheer intimidation of the man. With his 6’4” frame, size 15 shoes and steely glare, he casts quite a shadow and he was also quite a force to be reckoned with over his 14 years as an offensive lineman in the CFL (12 in Saskatchewan). His two Grey Cup rings as a player are a testament to the fact he knows what it takes to win.
However on this day, O’Day was in studio at 620 CKRM for our Football Friday in the Sports Cage as we discussed a variety of topics. The first was what it’s like to have gone immediately from being a starting centre to being a key part of team management in a hasty move made back in December of 2011.
“It’s definitely an eye-opener,” O’Day recalled. “You’re sitting in your first personnel meeting and they’re talking about all the players you just played with. Then the first thing that comes into your head is ‘I wonder how they used to talk about me?’ Then you look around and ask yourself which one of these guys is responsible for not bringing me back to play one more year?
“It’s tough and it’s definitely an adjustment, especially when you’re so close to the players. You’re close friends with them and so are your wives and kids. You’re privy to information that needs to stay in the room and the players respect that. But I do feel when players come in to talk to me, they’re more comfortable than going to upper management. But it’s gotten easier and I feel like I’m in a good spot. I don’t have the headaches and sore knees anymore. But I have a great boss and it’s a great organization. We’re an ascending team and it’s very exciting.”
O’Day plays a key role in personnel and has been heavily involved in scouting and contract negotiation pretty much from Day 1 on the job. That includes trying to sign this year’s raft of free agents. Six are left to be signed heading into Friday’s deadline and the most notable is linebacker Tyron Brackenridge, the Riders’ defensive MVP in 2012. Many fans are wondering what’s taking so long to get the deal done.
“It’s a good question,” O’Day quizzed. “We’re working on signing Tyron. He had a good year. It comes down to many things; salary and agents included. We’ve had open communication with Tyron. I know he likes Saskatchewan a lot, he likes the role he has here but it’ll come down to what he wants to do.”
Next on the list is Odell Willis. The quirky defensive end is just two years removed from leading the CFL in sacks and starring in the Grey Cup with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Although he seemed to enjoy his first season in Saskatchewan, it would appear the West Georgia product has loftier goals.
“Odell’s on the NFL training camp tour where he’s had three tryouts and he wants to see where that leads,” O’Day reported. “We’ll go off of what happens with that. If he goes to the NFL, we’ll wish him well. If he doesn’t, we’d like to talk to him.”
O’Day admitted that they’ll almost assuredly lose some players in free agency, but they’ve also identified some players from other teams they’d like to lure to Regina.
“We will be active,” O’Day predicted. “I don’t foresee us having a year like last year (signing Dominic Picard, Brendon Labatte and Paul Woldu). Some players will go to free agency and we’ll continue to pursue them but it won’t be a huge year like last year.”
We’ve written in this space over the past number of weeks about the added importance of the 2013 CFL season given the fact Regina will host this year’s Grey Cup in November. Indeed the excitement, and pressure, is mounting as each day of the off-season goes agonizingly, slowly by.
“It’s growing,” O’Day agreed. “It’s definitely growing. Sometimes when we have our head down working at Mosaic Stadium, we don’t see much of it but our players definitely do. They’re at events all the time. It’s in the back of their mind but we want to tone them down on that. We need to let them know it’s gonna take a lot of hard work and we need to work harder to give ourselves a chance at success at the end. Last year we lost four games going into the playoffs. We need to be playing better going into the playoffs.”
Ah, the playoffs. It’s no longer ‘if’ we make the playoffs but rather ‘when’. It’s unlikely that O’Day consciously slipped that comment in there on purpose. It’s simply the confident way in which he speaks and you know that will filter down to the players in their discussions this off-season. There are expectations around here again.
And as the club continues its daily preparations for this monumental season, the 102nd season of Roughrider football, the football operations department continues to examine each position of the club. And the defensive end position keeps coming up.
“It seems to be a common topic,” O’Day admitted. “I can tell you that most teams will have that same problem. Most guys that have a successful year end up signing in the NFL. Most teams are looking for the same thing; a good pass-rushing defensive end and they’re not easy to find. I do know that we have some guys on our team that we’d like to see take the next step and get better but we’ll also be signing ex-NFLers to compete for those defensive end positions.
“But I don’t want to over-emphasize sacks. How many pressures does he get? How many hits on the quarterback? Those don’t show up on the stat sheet, but make a big impact. But this is a passing league and to be successful, you have to have a pass-rush.”
So although you may not hear much out of Mosaic Stadium as the wind howls and the snow blows across the prairies this winter, you can rest assured that there’s plenty of activity behind closed doors. Head coach Corey Chamblin even summoned his coaching staff back to Regina early in order to get a jump start on preparations. It’s all part of the pressure which comes with this season but O’Day agrees, it’s a good pressure.
“It is,” O’Day smiled. “There’s pressure every year. Is there more pressure this year? I don’t know. We’re trying to win every year but I do know it would be unbelievable to have a home Grey Cup with our team in it. BC and Toronto have won the last two at home and they say things happen in three’s.
“I’m okay with that.”