Roughriders challenge Eskimos in season lid-lifter
Edmonton, AB (Sports Network) - West Division foes hit the field on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium, as the Edmonton Eskimos play host to the Roughriders of Saskatchewan in the 2013 season opener.
Both clubs made it to the postseason in 2012, but that had more to do with how inept both Winnipeg and Hamilton were over in the East Division than anything else. In fact, the Esks and Riders enter this new campaign with the longest losing streaks in the league at three and four games, respectively.
Saskatchewan, coached by Corey Chamblin, put up a record of just 8-10 in his first year. After missing the playoffs in 2011 when it delivered just five wins in 18 tries, the Riders lost to Calgary in the West semifinals, 36-30.
Meanwhile, the Eskimos went from posting a record of 11-7 in 2011, the first season under head coach Kavis Reed, to a 7-11 mark a year later. Again, the club finished last in the division standings, but still took part in the postseason where it bowed to Toronto, 42-26, in a cross-over battle. A transition year for sure, Edmonton fought through 2012 without Ricky Ray, the star signal-caller having been traded to the Argonauts for quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a first-round draft pick.
Second-to-last in the CFL in scoring a year ago with just 23.4 ppg, Edmonton embarks on another campaign but this time without Jyles who was let go in January. The release of Jyles, coupled with the recent ACL injury to Matt Nichols, who had been competing for the starting job, means Mike Reilly is now the leading candidate to direct the offense.
Reilly was a member of the British Columbia Lions between 2010-12, but had seen very limited action until last year when he started a pair of games, completing close to 70 percent of his attempts for 682 yards and four touchdowns against a couple of INTs. Reilly was traded to the Esks in late January.
Listed second on the depth chart is Jonathan Crompton, signed as a free agent in May 2013 after spending some time on the rosters of several NFL teams (San Diego, New England, Tampa Bay and Washington).
Also in the mix again is Kerry Joseph, who at 39 years of age was the one who took over for Jyles when he went down with an injury last season. Joseph started three games, throwing for 1,286 yards and nine scores, but was also picked off six times.
Running back Hugh Charles will be there to take some of the pressure off Reilly and his cohorts, since he did finish fifth in the league last season with 887 rushing yards and scored six times on the ground.
The threat further down the field for the Eskimos will again be Fred Stamps, who was second in the CFL in 2012 with 1,310 receiving yards, averaging almost 19 yards per grab as he reached the end zone nine times. The other slotback, Cary Koch, is certainly no slouch either, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch and posting seven majors a year ago.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, Edmonton was the best at forcing turnovers last season, coming up with a total of 49. The pass defense was particularly jarring as the group tallied a league-high 27 interceptions, Six of those picks were registered by Joe Burnett who not only returned two of those for scores, he also brought back his only fumble recovery 44 yards for a major as well.
Burnett does double duty as a kick/punt returner as well, so getting into the end zone is always on his mind.
One of the biggest moves in the CFL following last season was when the Roughriders brought in celebrated wide receiver Geroy Simon from the Lions. The 14-year veteran joined Saskatchewan as the league's all-time leading receiver with 15,787 yards and now needs just 29 more receptions to become the all-time leader in that category as well.
Last year, Simon caught a total of 54 balls for 700 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games, but he missed five games due to injury, one of the reasons why BC figured it could part with one of its fan favorites.
Simon joins another standout performer at the slotback position in Weston Dressler, a CFL All-Star in 2012 after he posted career-highs with 94 receptions for 1,206 yards and 13 scores.
Signal-caller Darian Durant will again be the man getting the ball to his favorite targets. Starting 16 games a year ago, Durant threw for just under 3,900 yards and delivered 20 TDs, but accuracy and decision making continued to be an issue as he was picked off 12 times as well. Six passing TDs shy of 100 for his career, Durant has also tossed 75 INTs and has fumbled the ball a total of 34 times.
Instead of taking too many chances himself, Durant would be wise to step back and hand the ball off to Kory Sheets who was second in the league in rushing with 1,277 yards and tied for the lead with 11 majors on the ground. Add to that another 517 yards and two touchdowns on 49 receptions and Sheets more than proved himself as a devastating contributor on offense for Saskatchewan.
The squads played three times during the 2012 regular season, with the Eskimos posting consecutive victories in August and October after dropping the first matchup in Week 2 on the road.
These teams have three mores games scheduled during the regular season, the next one coming in Week 9 in Edmonton as well. In both Week 16 and 19, Saskatchewan will then be the host.
06/26 10:57:43 ET