‘Rider 2005 Recap: Part 1

2005 was a pivotal year for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Five years into the Roy Shivers/Danny Barrett regime expectations were high. A strong finish to 2004 and a playoff run that was only one field goal away from a Grey Cup appearance setup 2005 as a break-out or break-up year. However off-season moves changed the complexion of the team in 2005 and it underwent its standard turmoil during the season. Despite a disappointing season on and off field, the ‘Rider executive maintained the status quo for football operations. It is still to be seen what player changes may happen for the upcoming training camp. Here is my evaluation of the team performance in 2005 starting with Part 1 – Season Review and Football Operations.

Season Review

The season started ominously for the ‘Riders with two pre-season losses, the second against the B.C. Lions a harbinger of a future match-up against B.C. where a rookie QB Buck Pierce would come of the bench in the second half and lead the Lions to a comeback victory.

After four weeks the ‘Riders were 3-1 and were alone in second place in the Western Division and easily could have been tied for first at 4-0 after a one point loss to Toronto. They had played consistently to this point, albeit against some weaker opponents. They would never be in such a position again.

Weeks 5 to 10 (except bye Week 9) all racked up losses, starting with a road loss in Calgary in a much hyped meeting between recently departed Henry Burris and Nealon Greene. Two losses to Ottawa, one to Montreal and one to B.C. gave the ‘Riders a 3-6 record at the half way point heading into Labour Day weekend. The loss to B.C. repeated history where a rookie Buck Pierce replaced an ineffective Casey Printers and engineered two touchdown drives in the final quarter for the win 19-15. Once again the ‘Riders were in position to battle for a cross-over playoff position or possibly third place in the West, but a second place finish was almost out of the question.

Week 11’s Labour Day Classic saw the ‘Rider offence wake up under Marcus Crandell and explode for 45 points. The ‘Riders were also able to squeak out wins the following week in Winnipeg and at home against Edmonton in Week 13 thanks to a blocked field goal attempt. Another victory against Toronto put the ‘Riders one game behind the Eskimos and Stampeders. Hope springs eternal, but these clubs had also struggled early and under more difficult schedules. The ‘Riders fate would be to chase these teams to the end of the season.

Saskatchewan’s winning streak ended after one more victory. Then two losses to Montreal and Edmonton put them back in the position of keeping ahead of Ottawa for a cross over berth. Week 18 saw a pivotal game against the rival Calgary Stampeders and their only Taylor field appearance in front of a full house. The ‘Riders started out well, leading at the half. Highlighting the coaching deficiencies of the ‘Riders however, the Stampeders came out in the second half having made adjustments and scored 23 points while holding the ‘Riders to none to steal the game. This is where the ‘Rider head trust seems lacking, effectively playing the same game plan in the second half despite knowledge that teams will adjust and you need something new to show them to have success.

After a bye weekend where much off-field turmoil reigned, the ‘Riders squeaked out a win in B.C. to secure a cross over berth in Montreal. Despite their 9 and 9 record the ‘Riders played so poorly throughout the season they did not deserve a playoff position anywhere. A cross over berth for this type of season is akin to prizes for being bad at your sport. Ottawa certainly deserved it more, despite the differences in each team’s record.

Thankfully a quick exit was provided to the ‘Riders by the Montreal Alouettes. Certainly any playoffs success would only placate the masses in Riderville and detract from the problems at hand.

So based on that performance, here is my evaluation of the various position with the club.

Football Operations

Roy Shivers was given a show of confidence following the season, though not an overwhelming one, with a decision to keep him on for his second last year of his contract. Rumours were that some ultimatums were put to Shivers before his fate was decided. One may have been true, with rumours abound that Shivers is actively shopping for a quarterback. Shivers has been known for locating talent and has delivered in that respect the last five years over his predecessors. Depth never has been this great in Saskatchewan, with players stepping in to replace others due to injury or loss to the NFL. Linebackers and running backs seem to be specialties of Shivers, however he has yet to find a QB while in Saskatchewan. Nealon Greene is a CFL cast-off, so was Henry Burris, and Marcus Crandell is as well. Kevin Glenn and Rocky Butler have either been traded or not seen enough playing time to evaluate as ‘Rider QB’s. Shivers is outspoken, something I don’t mind. I do have certain expectations about how players who are role models in the community should act on and off the field, and no winning record or Grey Cup or 9 and 9 season is worth letting players run the show because of their talent. With Shivers however comes Danny Barrett, on his last year of his contract extension in 2006.

Danny Barrett has now coached the ‘Riders to 5, 6, 8, 11, 9 and 9 wins in the last six years. Have they plateaued? It appears so. Barrett’s player-friendly style increasingly seems to be causing problems for the club, with rumours abound about players believing they are bigger than the team and causing locker room problems. The late season Trevis Smith situation also displays a lack of respect for the team that would not stand in any community.

Barrett’s casualness also shows on the field, with some decisions confusing and unprepared ness showing often. Barrett’s loyalty, both to his players and coaches, limits the club. As an ex-quarterback, he employs a policy that almost never pulls a QB from a game. QB changes only take place after many losses where a player has repeatedly shown poor decisions and lack of confidence. This eliminates one of coaches’ tools in replacing a QB to provide a different viewpoint to the offence and look to the defence. This is especially baffling when two veteran quarterbacks are used, since inexperience and protecting a young QB from a bad experience can’t be used as an excuse. Barrett’s loyalty to Offensive Co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille is also baffling unless he is the ultimate architect of his scheme. Bellefeuille deploys an unimaginative and conservative offence which fails to address the realities of the CFL. Instead it is meant to play to the strengths (or rather avoid the weaknesses) of their players. This offence never won a game on its explosive power and lost many because of its inability to keep the defence off the field. In Saskatchewan, to keep the stadium full, you would be better to shoot out the lights and win or lose all your games in close, high scoring affairs.

Overall I would give Shivers a C- and Barrett a D-. I don’t think a failing grade is necessary for Barrett to think we want better than a just getting by coach.

Next: Part 2 – Offence and Special Teams

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