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2014 CFL Western Preview - Saskatchewan Roughriders

From The Sports Network

By Phil Neuffer, Associate Editor

Regina, SK (SportsNetwork.com) - The Saskatchewan Roughriders have enjoyed an unprecedented run of success in the recent past, with six straight playoff appearances, five trips to the Western Division Finals since 2003 and a pair of Grey Cups in that time as well, the most recent of which came last year.

The Roughriders' thorough domination of Hamilton (45-23) in the 101st Grey Cup last November earned them their fourth all-time CFL championship and first since 2007.

Now the task at hand is matching that success.

Corey Chamblin was the deserving recipient of the 2013 CFL Coach of the Year award for his work in his third season in Regina. Under Chamblin's tutelage the Roughriders finished 11-7 in the regular season, while ranking third in the CFL in total offense (371.7 ypg) and total defense (320.3 ypg).

Veteran quarterback Darian Durant will be entering his ninth season in the CFL, all coming with the Roughriders. The 5-foot-11 signal caller turned in a stellar 2013 campaign, totaling 4,154 yards and 31 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. It was the third 4,000-yard passing season of his career and his 12 interceptions tied for a career-low in seasons in which he has had at least 150 pass attempts.

Tino Sunseri and Seth Doege are seemingly the quarterbacks in waiting, with Sunseri serving as a backup last season and Doege, who threw for more than 8,000 yards in his college career at Texas Tech, entering his first year in the CFL after failing to make an impact in the NFL in 2013.

Three different receivers reached the 1,000-yard mark last season for Saskatchewan and two players from that trio are back on the roster. Taj Smith built on an impressive rookie season (47 receptions, 690 yards) with a stellar 2013 campaign in which he led the team in receptions (78) and totaled 1,007 yards and seven scores. Veteran slot back Chris Getzlaf posted his second- career 1,000-yard season and also had seven touchdowns.

After Smith and Getzlaf there are plenty of options to replace Weston Dressler, who had 1,011 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns last year but signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL. Some prospects include Brett Swain, Eron Riley and Rob Bagg.

Saskatchewan did not rely on the running game much last season, ranking last in the CFL in attempts (305). However, the Roughriders were effective when they did choose to run, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The main reason for that success was Kory Sheets, who finished second in the CFL with 1,598 rushing yards, but is now employed by the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

A group of unknowns will get the chance to take over for Sheets. Keith Toston and Anthony Allen are the top candidates right now, but neither has played a snap in the CFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Roughriders were also solid last season. Rushing the passer was a major strength of the unit, with the squad finishing with 57 sacks, good enough for third in the CFL. Ricky Foley, John Chick and Tearrius George were terrifying on the frontline, with each tying for a team-high with eight sacks. Foley did more than just bring down the quarterback, as he recorded the most fumble recoveries (four) in the league.

Weldon Brown is the anchor in the linebacking corps and is the top returning tackler at the position (45). Brown also recorded a career-high three sacks and a matching number of interceptions last season. Shomari Williams is also back for the Roughriders after playing in only six games in an injury riddled 2013 season. In 2012 Williams racked up 59 tackles for Saskatchewan. The next most productive player is Tristan Black, who is in his sixth season, but he has only 35 career tackles, leaving plenty of opportunity for some other players to work into the mix.

The defense took a hit in losing the versatile Craig Butler, who led the team in tackles (60) last season, playing at linebacker and in the secondary. He decided to sign with Hamilton in the offseason.

However, the secondary will have some of its other talented pieces back. Dwight Anderson (53 tackles, five INTs) and Tyron Brackenridge (48 tackles, three INTs) are both proven playmakers. Terrell Maze, Macho Harris, Tristan Jackson and Rod Williams, who started in each of the Roughriders' playoff games, including the Grey Cup, are all experienced members of the secondary as well.

Saskatchewan has turned itself into one of the most competitive franchises in the CFL recently and that trend should continue this year. Durant has been playing his best football over the last two seasons and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. The losses of Sheets and Dressler will hurt on offense, but Smith and Getzlaf are back and if one of the running back prospects pans out, the offense should be just fine. It is a similar scenario on defense, where the bulk of experience should make up for the loss of Butler. Expect another playoff berth and more from the Roughriders in 2014.

FACTS & FIGURES: Division - Western. 2013 record - 11-8. Playoff result: Defeated Hamilton 45-23 in the Grey Cup. Stadium - Mosaic Stadium. Capacity - 30,048. Colors - Green, white and black.

06/23 11:24:37 ET