Unable to attend this week’s game, my column will be observations on the win over Hamilton and notes picked up after the first game.
I watched the Hamilton game. I was impressed by the Riders. They played well on offence, defence and special teams. They were challenged by the Tiger Cats and met the test.
I was most impressed by the pass rush. Against B.C. the Riders seemed to get pressure through blitzes. Against Hamilton they were getting through with the front four. While A.C. Leonard is well known as an accomplished pass rusher, I did not know Jonathan Woodard. I do not believe his 3 sacks will be his defining career game. He has a quickness off the ball only the best pass rushers possess. On the sack where he forced a fumble he blew by Chris Van Zeyl. The Hamilton offensive lineman may have been in his first game after injury but he is a good lineman. He barely touched Woodard. While new to the CFL Woodard spent several years bouncing around the NFL. While a couple of inches shorter than Willie Jefferson he reminds me a bit of the long limbed Jefferson.
Moving to the offensive line I did my best to follow Rider left guard, Logan Ferland, as the rookie Rider is from Melfort and played his high school football for the Melfort Comets. As far as I could tell he has been doing alright. After two games he has not been called for illegal procedure or holding. There have been no conspicuous breakdowns in his blocking.
After the first game I asked Coach Craig Dickenson about Logan. He said Logan did not stand out. His comment was intended as positive. Logan had not made bad plays to draw his intention.
Dickenson went on to say Logan fit in well and that the game was not too big for him. Some rookies can be overwhelmed by the demands of professional football. Most often those having problems are struggling to cope with the mental rather than physical aspects of the game. Not Logan.
He is starting where All-Star Brendon Labatte played for years. Labatte chose to step away rather than live under the Covid protocols required of CFL players. His absence gave Logan the chance to be the starter. There was considerable anxiety among the Rider faithful that Labatte’s absence would significantly weaken the line. I note there has been no discussion about Labatte being gone during the past two weeks.
While way too early to predict a career, Logan is off to an excellent start as a Rider.
He may be joined by another Comet as Matt Riley was the seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft.
After high school Logan played junior football with the Regina Thunder while Matt played university football with the Huskies in Saskatoon.
It would be a special day for Melfort Comet football if both Logan and Matt were to line up on the Rider offensive line.
Not surprisingly they were a formidable force in high school football. In 2014 they helped lead the Comets to a provincial championship.
In the first game against B.C. Fajardo was hit hard by Jordan Williams as he tried to escape from the Rider end zone. I thought it was helmet to helmet and a hit on the quarterback who was not outside the tackles. There was no penalty. When I asked Fajardo he took a dig at CFL refereeing by saying he is not big enough to get the call. Dickenson challenged the play and was told there was no penalty as Fajardo was a running back at the time though he had not passed the line of scrimmage. A few days later the CFL fined Williams for a high hit on Fajardo. It is discouraging for CFL refereeing to think that a play reviewed and said to be no penalty is subsequently fined.
Lastly, 20 Rider penalties on Saturday night was not the highest Rider game total. In 2015 Rob Vanstone of the Leader-Post reported the Riders set a record of 24 penalties in a game with the Argonauts. After the opening game Dickenson said the big B.C. comeback gave the coaches lots to work on for the next week. All the penalties will give the coaches work opportunities this week.