CFL Off-Season Report: Riders
TSN’s Farhan Lalji and Dave Naylor take a closer look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their series of team snapshots around the CFL.
Naylor: In today’s CFL, with free agency and short contracts, we’re used to seeing even very successful teams have a high amount of turnover from one year to the next. But when you look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders roster, amazingly it looks like the one from a year ago. A couple changes on the offensive line, a new offensive coordinator in former Edmonton Eskimos head coach Jason Maas, but this is a team that won the West Division and hosted the Western Final, you can see why they want to keep it consistent.
Lalji: They did have some minor changes on the offensive side: they lost receiver Naaman Roosevelt and offensive linemen Dariusz Bladek and Philip Blake, but I think that was generally by club choice. But on the defensive side, two losses are significant in defensive tackle Micah Johnson and cover linebacker Derrick Moncrief.*
I know statistically Johnson didn’t have as good a season in 2019 as he did while with the Calgary Stampeders, but don’t think he wasn’t a presence in the middle of that defensive line, drawing double teams the way that he did. Veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian had a very good year and I think Johnson in front of him had a lot to do with that.
Moncrief, who the Roughriders lost to the NFL, was so flexible, versatile, and physical. While the secondary around him last year remains intact, I do think Moncrief is going to be a bit of a loss.
Player to Watch
Naylor: One of the key players to watch for the Roughriders who could break out and really be a big plus for this team is Justin McInnis. This was the receiver from the NCAA Saskatchewan took with their first pick in the CFL Draft a year ago. And most rookie Canadians follow the same path, they do spot duty, they learn the system, they play special teams. And it really is about grooming them to be contributors in years two and three. I think they are leaning towards having McInnis as a starting receiver and if he can give them some presence, really have a step-forward year in his development, that could be huge for the Roughriders, a real big part of what they hope will be another good offence.
The Next Step
Lalji: Ultimately the biggest question surrounding the Roughriders if they want to take that next step from division winner to Grey Cup appearance is what happens at the quarterback position with Fajardo under a new offensive coordinator in Maas. Now look, Maas is highly regarded and Fajardo had a fantastic 2019, coming out of nowhere to get in the Most Outstanding Player discussion. I’m going to be interested to see how these two mesh because when you look at Maas and see how he handled Mike Reilly in Edmonton, he really wanted to push the ball down the field, he did a lot of that when he was in Ottawa as well, whereas with a guy like Fajardo, he’s so good with the run-pass option game, he’s so good with his legs, he’s got that dynamic ability as well. Not necessarily how Maas has coached previously. It think he’s going to have to adjust but I’m curious to see what that adjustment is going to look like if Fajardo is going to take that next step in Year 2 because as we’ve said before, it’s always harder the second time around for a quarterback.
*Moncrief, who signed with the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders earlier this off-season, was recently released by the team and is currently a free agent.