Here we go!
The Saskatchewan Roughriders held their first official practice of 2010 on Sunday after declaring their roster a few days prior. *(It was an extra day of practice as they prepared for their Canada Day season opener against Montreal at Mosaic Stadium.)*
Coach Ken Miller and his staff weren't fooling around and played no favourites, axing a handful of veterans on cutdown day including DE Joe Sykes, DB Joel Lipinski, DE Michael Stadnyk and OL Jordan Rempel among the 21 players released. Stadnyk and Lipinski were both Regina products and Rempel hails from nearby Caronport. Hopefully they'll catch on elsewhere.
There are many changes on this club from the one which fumbled away the 2009 Grey Cup championship. There's a new offensive coordinator (Doug Berry), offensive line coach (Tom Freeman) and receivers coach (Bob Dyce) but the biggest change revolves around the defensive end positions vacated by John Chick and Stevie Baggs who fled to the NFL. Veteran Luc Mullinder and rookie Brent Hawkins are the opening day starters at those positions but their names are written in pencil.
"All we're looking for there are players who can fit into our defensive schemes," said Miller, perhaps knowing the 22 sacks collected by Chick and Baggs last year are a lofty feat for anyone to repeat.
On offense the club is loaded and they've only augmented what they boasted last year with the addition of OT Dan Goodspeed, WR Prechae Rodriguez and the return of SB Weston Dressler from a broken ankle which caused him to miss the Grey Cup.
And here's the biggest change from last year; the Roughriders are almost unanimously picked to finish first in the CFL West. That never happens!
Perhaps it's by default more than anything else, but CFL pundits are predicting Saskatchewan to finish on top out here mostly because the Riders have LESS holes in their roster than the other three teams in their division.
Why is it strange? Because no one, not ANYONE, picked the Riders to finish first last season. Really why would they? Saskatchewan hadn't finished in first since 1976 but lo and behold, when the regular season concluded last year the Riders were on top of the mountain.
So should we pick them first first as well? Shall we jump aboard the bandwagon which is abnormally full for this time of year?
I guess so, because I don't see any team out there that's better. And as coach Ken Miller predicts, "I expect us to be a dominant force this year."
We shall see. Here we go!