Latest plot twist in Rider soap opera an intriguing development

August 16, 2018 - 1:53pm

In retrospect, maybe the Riders got all they were going to get from Duron Carter before they released him.

As the Riders prepare to face Calgary on Sunday, they started to lay out the foundation for the remaining 11 games in the schedule by releasing Carter on Saturday night, then bringing back Canadian receiver Rob Bagg for apparent depth and leadership, and then releasing players like Tresor Mafute (defensive tackle), Devin Garder (quarterback), Shawun Lurry (defensive back) and Trent Richardson (running back).

The Richardson release is an interesting situation because when the season started and Richardson was not at training camp, it sounded like Richardson was just another former NFL star who was too good for the CFL and wanted to be released so he could get his NFL shot. Turns out Richardson is in a custody battle and if he left the United States, he would lose custody.

So with that bit of information, those who love to bash the Riders and/or Chris Jones have to back off a bit while the bigger story, the release of Duron Carter and the return of Rob Bagg come with their own set of questions and perhaps even more incentive to speculate wildly to back whatever position they held going into this week as to the competence of Chris Jones as a man wearing many hats in the Rider organization.

When Carter was signed a year ago, there was a rough split between those who thought Carter, who got cut or kicked off the Montreal Alouettes because of his antics, was going to be a cancer in the locker or Chris Jones was the Malcontent Player Whisperer who knew how to get the best out of the various free spirits that make up professional football.
It was a calculated gamble by Jones and by extension the Riders. Carter is a talented individual, but football is a team sport and being talented does not give one a licence to think one person is more important than the team.

Jone’s decision to have Carter go on defense was a pretty good move to get him away from the offense where Carter can make plays but he wants the ball on all plays and if a team accommodates him, it doesn’t take much for a defensive coordinator to handle the situation and effectively choke off the Riders attack. When he was on defense, Carter didn’t have time to complain about the ball, he had to be ready at all times.

The Riders went for relative youth in their receiving corps cutting Bakari Grant and Rob Bagg at the end of training camp, although a snippet came out Bagg was cut because he was injured and the Riders could not put him a six game injured list for what was not deemed a six game injury. That move didn’t work out the way the Riders intended with quarterback Zach Collaros going down with a concussion, and Brandon Bridge looking more comfortable as a back up quarterback coming off the bench than as a starter.
So a bye week has not become the time for CFL teams to tweak things and The Riders had come to the end of a cost/benefit analysis about Carter. Having Carter demand to be the focus of the offense was not the right formula for taking advantage of everyone in the offense and what this offense needs is not just play-calling that reflects the talents of those in the offense, but also confidence in its ability to move the ball.

The last time Calgary was in town, the Riders were booed for their unimaginative play-calling and either unwillingness or inability to try to move the ball more than seven yards at a time. Since then the Riders let go Jerome Messam (due to a voyeurism charge), Carter and are clearing out the edges of the roster with releases like Richardson.

With a player like Carter, you hope to get what you can from him, hope that maybe the foundation is there for him to buy into the concept of team, but if you don’t hit a Grey Cup, then the clock is definitely ticking on when it becomes more problem than its worth for the team to try to help Carter buy into the concept of team and have him work with, rather than annoy his teammates.

That sort of glossed over the fact Carter worked hard to ingratiate himself with the fans and no one will deny that with fans on a one-on-one basis, Carter was fantastic. Giving touchdown balls to girls fighting cancer, making fan appearances, Carter was embraced by the fan base.

Carter has deleted his Twitter account and has been passed on by Montreal and BC, with Toronto maybe being interested but weighing the costs of looking after him versus what he can offer. SJ Green, the other former Montreal star receiver said the team should look into getting Carter and the question is whether Carter will buy into the culture Trestman is trying to install in Toronto.

But…the Riders are 3-4 and if the BC Lions are managing to turn their ship around with Travis Lulay, then the Riders will be lucky to qualify for a wild-card berth, having seemingly kissed off competing in the top three of the western conference. The Riders are ranked last in the west and now face the meat of their schedule against western teams. If they don’t get their act together, they are out of this by Thanksgiving.

So the change was on balance, necessary. Chris Jones did not throw Carter under the bus and while some Bomber fans I know like to whine about the Riders players long list of criminal charges, some of which like Taj Smith, were dismissed in court, every team has their own problems, it’s just that nobody cares about the Bombers, even in Winnipeg.

The return of Rob Bagg was probably a combination of buying some good PR for a team that needs it and probably also providing the Riders with some Canadian depth at receiver and more importantly, leadership in the locker room.

At 33 years old, Bagg has a work ethic that hopefully will counteract whatever influence Carter had and is probably closer to what Chris Jones aspires to. Whether Bagg will be a starter will likely depend on injuries, but if Bagg can act as a positive mentor for players like Joshua Sanford and Mitch Picton, when this is an investment well worth making.

Anything more than that is gravy.

The other return was that of Cameron Marshall who returns to the team after being cut in preseason for apparently not being fully recovered from his injury last year. The Riders are now operating on a Tre Mason, Marcus Thigpen combo and Marshall probably adds some blocking and some inside running to go with two guys who are slash style runners that hit the line fast, make a few moves and get their yardage that way.

Which is interesting because after the aforementioned first Calgary game, Jones said the team was looking to run the ball more and a short passing, ball-possession type of offense. With the Riders entering the middle part of their schedule and in theory with the weather getting cooler, this is when teams start fine-tuning their running game for the playoffs.

Marshall seems to be a better inside runner than Mason or Thigpen, but again, this may be a roster move whose impact will be seen at Labour Day when Winnipeg provides an interesting test for the Rider offense.

The other major story in the CFL this week seems to be the way the Montreal Alouettes have handled, or mishandled an apparent concussion to Johnny Manziel.

Manziel went down in his last game, got cleared to go back in and this week missed two practices to deal with concussion aftereffects. Montreal and the league have been taking some heat for how they handled the situation and while Manziel did improve, somewhat, it appears Antonio Pipkin will be starting at quarterback for Montreal when they go to Edmonton for what Edmonton should bill as guaranteed win night.

Manziel’s agent thought before his client got his first start that he was being rushed into the lineup, and most people can agree Montreal made the move to get Manziel and to get him into the lineup in an effort to sell tickets and remain relevent in the Montreal market. The hope is that Manziel has enough magic left to be a Doug Flutie V 2.0 but at this rate, and apparently Manziel will not start against Edmonton, although there is a play package for him. Which considering he is supposed to be suffering post-concussion effects begs the question of why he is even in there in the first place?

There are other player moves going on around the CFL with Tank Reed being cut by Toronto with apparently linebacker Bear Woods ready to come off the injury list and try to help stabilize the Toronto defense. There may be more player cuts because of the CFL rule that veterans cut before Labour Day don’t get the rest of their contracts guaranteed which helps with the salary cap considering the NFL cuts may soon be with us.

Edmonton made a bunch of moves as well this week with linebacker Adam Konor back alsong with Christophe Mulumba on the roster and the team signing Doug Parrish and long snapper Tanner Doll. The Esks released wide receiver Sam Giguere which will come as a shock to Rod Black. The Eskimos also released linebacker Jeremiah Kose and offensive lineman Kevin Palmer, as their defense seems to be putting back the pieces in time for their royal rumble against Calgary.

In BC, feeling better about themselves and having flashbacks to 2011 when they went 0 for whatever before going on a roll and winning the Grey Cup, running back Jeremiah Johnson is back practising with the team and apparently the Lions have not closed the door completely on a Duron Carter appearance, but likely not until after Labour Day.
In Calgary Boise St. QB Montell Cozart joins the roster as a result of quarterback coach Ryan Dinwiddie checking him out as Calgary looks to add depth and perhaps set the stage should Bo Levi Mitchell decide to try out the NFL next season.

But this is all in the future, what will happen this week?

Well summer appears to be over with no more Thursday night football, which is too bad since that song was starting to grow on my. We start Friday with Ottawa going to Winnipeg and when Ottawa has looked good, it has looked very good, and when not, it looks like a sub 500 team.

This time it is going to Winnipeg and Trevor Harris may have some nice completion percentages and yardage figures, but Ottawa with its turnovers doesn’t seem that tough mentally to focus on the game. Which makes them lousy over an 18 game season but potentially dynamite in a shortened playoff run when all they need is to run two or three games to win it all.

Winnipeg is attempting to be all things to all people with trick plays, different ways of doing things that might help it break a 27 going on 28 year championship drought. The Bombers put Weston Dressler on a six game injury list, so he is out for this one, but with Andrew Harris in the lineup, the Bombers don’t need to be too pass happy to win crucial games.

If Ottawa will go as far as Trevor Harris can carry them, then Winnipeg is a bit different. They have a bunch of critical moving parts, but depth may be a problem. Winnipeg will go as far as their athletic therapist staff can take them and this week, they will survive a late Ottawa challenge to win 30-23.

The double header on Saturday has BC at Toronto with both teams feeling relatively good about themselves after some character wins – Toronto coming from behind to beat Montreal by one point in an epic game while BC also spotted Edmonton some points before gutting it out for a much needed win.
Edmonton, uh sorry, BC with a bunch of former Eskimos, has loaded up on veteran experience for this run in Wally Buono’s last run and in this game BC is facing a team also in search of a bit of sustained success.

The difference may be that while BC has loaded up on veteran help, especially on the defensive line, Toronto’s defense is still searching for an identity and it’s unlike whether McLeod-Bethel Thompson is the real thing or just has a Rick Warman style of game for Toronto.

Another interesting factor is that BC is really not worth a damn outside of BC Place while Toronto playing in front of 10,000 friends, families and MLSE Employees, hasn’t shown where it might be worth a damn cheering for a team that seemed to have its heart torn out when Ricky Ray went down.
The difference seems to be BC’s defense might be playing better than Toronto’s and that might tip the scales to Travis Lulay and the BC Lions for a 27-24 win.

Then Montreal comes to Edmonton for Guaranteed Win Night. The long odds against Montreal might have gotten longer with the Manziel concussion situation with Montreal starting yet another quarterback in a never ending story. The expected magic has yet to take place for Montreal, who mortgaged their future for Manziel as Kavis Reed does everything he can to still hang onto his job.
Edmonton is getting some of their talented defensive players back and if things go well, should be able to play a number of back-ups as the big thing for Edmonton will be trying to avoid injury to major players while ensuring they don’t do a Saskatchewan and overlook Montreal, who won against Saskatchewan in Saskatchewan so stranger things have happened.

The only strange thing I can see if if the Eskimo defense falls asleep during the gamebut considering how Jason Maas responds on the sidelines, destroying coolers, headsets and decorum, that shouldn’t be a problem. Edmonton wins this one 31-20 with Montreal getting 20 points through deception in the smokey haze in Edmonton.

Finally on Sunday we have Calgary come back to Saskatchewan for a rematch where a few weeks ago Calgary roared to a 24-0 lead and held on for a 34-22 win. This time the Riders look different, with Zach Collaros back in the lineup, Jerome Messam and Duron Carter out, and who knows how this one shakes down.

The interesting thing is after posting the big lead, Calgary sat back and let the Riders back in before putting it away in the fourth quarter. Whether it was confidence the Rider pop gun offense posed no threat to the Stamps, or whether it was the over confidence and failure to take teams seriously that has them 0-2 in the last two Grey Cups, it bears remembering for this game.

The Riders lost the game because of turnovers and lack of discipline and it will be interesting to see how the Riders respond to recent changes and whether they have their heads around the entire concept of ball security. A fair number of commentators have said the release of Carter was an addition by subtraction move by the Riders and I think back to the Riders playing Hamilton after the bye week in a game no one had them picked to win and they came up big.
This game is crucial for the Riders, less so to Calgary who are 7-0 and again, no one goes through a season undefeated. The Riders stay alive with a 27-17 win.

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