After being in the Grey Cup and losing to the Montreal Alouettes in both the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cup, it was expected by many that the Saskatchewan Roughriders would knock down the door and barge their way through to a CFL title. They didn’t knock down the door in 2011, they got thrown off the property instead.
A disastrous 5-13 season meant changes had to be made and many of them were made in the off-season. Some were out of the team’s control as long-time veteran Gene Makowsky retired after a stellar career that will see him end up someday in the CFL Hall of Fame, while Andy Fantuz decided that life closer to home would be better for him as the free agent signed a deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. General Manager Brendan Taman knew his team needed to go through a thorough housecleaning as they get ready for 2012 and he thinks that was accomplished.
“When you go through a season like we did last year, you need to make changes. We maybe made more than we thought we would, but as it turned out, we don’t think we did anything that was unnecessary,” Taman said. “We still have a good core of guys like Durant, Dressler, Shologan and Frazier to name a few, but we knew some new blood was needed and that’s what we did in the off-season. We feel that anytime you line up in the CFL, you have a chance to win so I think we can come out and win games right off the bat and get back to the level we expect of ourselves.”
The one thing that stands out in the off-season changes that were made was the amount of players coming into camp that have significant NFL experience. They include receivers Sinorice Moss and Dwayne Jarrett, quarterbacks Colt Brennan and J.T O’Sullivan, defensive lineman Curtis Gatewood and defensive back Macho Harris. Taman says those guys and others have shown they have what it takes to play football, but now its important to see if these guys can show well and adapt to the Canadian game and its nuances.
“If they can survive the three days of camp and then get to main camp when the bullets start flying, that’s what’s important, “Taman said. “ I think that’s when we will see the cream rise to the top and we hope that a few of the guys that we have brought in can really make an impression and show us they have what it takes to play this game at an elite level.”
When main camp does start, there will be several great positional battles to watch. One would think Taman would be looking at the defensive side of the ball to see how things shake out, but the general manager says his eyes will be on the offence.
“Believe it or not, the one area I am really interested in is Canadian receiver,” Taman admitted. “I know we have Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg, but what I want to see is the depth we have behind those two. It’s a real chance for Jordan Sisco to step up and show us what we have. We will likely start two Canadians, but we need a 3rd and maybe a 4th guy so that is one position I will look at. Another is back-up quarterback. I know that may not be important to a lot of people, but if Darian gets nicked—which hopefully he doesn’t, it will have a major impact as to how we do things.”
As new head coach Corey Chamblin gets ready to blow his whistle for the first time, Taman says the message is clear that a new era is upon the organization.
“Like I said earlier, I think we have a good core, but we do have a lot of work to do.” Taman admits. “We will be a different looking football team this year, but after last year we had to do that. Many teams have shown in the past in this league that it doesn’t take much to turn it around. If we can get some early wins and get some confidence going, it could translate into us giving it a very good run.”
That being said, Taman doesn’t think confidence will be a problem this year amongst the returning vets despite what happened last year.
“No!” Taman insists. “I think the guys we have kept have played at a high level since they’ve been here. In 2011, we had several flaws in the way we did things so we just put that behind us and move on. We have a guy coaching our DB’s (Barron Miles) who won a Grey Cup so he doesn’t care about 2011 in Saskatchewan. I don’t think our returnees are lacking confidence. We have turned the page on that and you will see that as we begin main camp that we are going to hit the ground running and hopefully get back to where we think we belong.”