So What Did the Combine Show?

March 27, 2018 - 11:34am

The Second CFL concluded with the Player Combine in Winnipeg where prospective draft choices are put through their paces and CFL teams look into their crystal ball to try to determine who will make it to the pros and who won’t.

This is part of an ongoing effort by the CFL to make the longest off-season bearable and to keep the league in the news to some extent and engaged with the fans.

An event that makes the CFL combine with a fan friendly event where fans can meet players, listen to discussions was a long overdue idea especially when you look at how the NFL markets its offseason, with free-agency, the player combine and the draft.

The idea is to have some event act as a catalyst to get people talking about the league in the off-season and build interest towards the upcoming season. With the NFL as the 800 pound gorilla in the room, it can be difficult for the CFL to get some air and attention.

A case in point is the CFL combine.

Some of the ranked players invited to the combine chose to not take part or wanted to just show up for the interviews and not the testing. This isn’t something limited to the CFL combine as the NFL combine also has players who decline to take part in some drills, preferring to showcase their wares at their own college’s pro days.

The reason is, sometimes the players testing falls below expectations and that player’s draft status goes down accordingly and so does their contract value. There are situations where testing for athletes goes higher than expected and their draft status does go up but players looking at their future would prefer to control as many factors as possible.

There are other things at work besides the physical testing, there are also the interviews and sometimes those can overshadow whatever the player does on the field.  Last year Johnny Augustine killed it on the field in testing at the player combine, but when the draft came, Augustine wasn’t drafted and was signed as a free agent.

Augustine didn’t stick with Edmonton and went back to university to play out his eligibilty and perhaps pick up a bit of life experience. It’ll be interesting to see how Augustine handles his second shot and he could serve as a cautionary tale for combine players who maybe have a bit too much confidence in their abilities.

Ranking players is somewhat immaterial because the ranking ignores the situations facing each team. Depending on their situation, teams have different needs ranging from Montreal – eager to trade the first overall pick in exchange for some starting talent, to Hamilton which enjoys a multitude of picks and perhaps can target their interest to specific areas.

The Riders have been exploring Canadian players like DB, Adam Laurensse and  DL, Cory Robinson along with Jake Harty at receiver and  national receiver Brett Blaszko and national kicker Brett Lauther. Harty had some experience with Ottawa and Blaszko was drafted by BC in 2016, spent a year on their practice roster, got signed to Winnipeg, then dressed for two games for the Riders as a back up receiver.

The Riders also signed John Ojo, a former Edmonton Eskimo defensive back who tore his Achilles tendon in 2016 and then signed with the New York Jets last year but did not stick with the team. If Ojo has come back from that injury, it is a significant addition to the Rider defense. Of interest is the length of the contract, which is two years, which puts NFL dreams on the back burner.

Social media also provided news of another Rider signing with linebacker Justin Horton, formerly of Jacksonsville, signing with the Riders. Horton has the size to be the missing middle linebacker the Rider defense seems to be currently lacking, although the Riders may be looking to explore their options not just with Horton, but perhaps a combination of Cameron Judge and Sam Hurl providing a needed Canadian presence on defense.

With that being said, it will be interesting to see how the Riders work out the logistics of their roster heading into the mini camp in April in Florida. The release of Henoc Muamba, for salary cap reasons (his performance wasn’t worth the price he was asking) meant some money would be available for other signings, and there are players like offensive lineman Bruce Campbell still out there.

There may be some other salary cap related casualties yet to be announced. The Riders may also have to start looking at their roster heading into training camp, especially after the CFL draft comes up.

Of course there was other news and rumors, like Calgary apparently getting the 2019 Grey Cup following the Edmonton Grey Cup this year although the Commissioner said hang on before that is official. The Riders seem to be holding back especially since Hamilton is long overdue for hosting a Grey Cup, although the many lawsuits with their facility seem to be the reason why that location has not gone ahead yet.

 The Canadian Football Hall of Fame announced its inductees -Defensive End Brent Johnson, Punter Hank Ilesic, Regina born Offensive Lineman Scott Flory, and former Riders DB coach Barron Miles. Also inducted in 2018 will be Paul Brule, Frank Cosentino, and the late Tom Hugo. Notable by their absence were former Rider Wayne Shaw from the 1960s and 1970s and Kent Austin, former quarterback and head coach, who according to Rod Pedersen hasn’t been nominated for the Hall of Fame.

That seems strange for an organization that can hardly keep itself in exhibit space. But perhaps that explains why the Hall has problems keeping itself in the public eye. 

So now the drive is towards the draft and seeing what free agents are still out there. Muamba is likely to sign with Montreal and Kavis Reed has indicated a willingness to trade the first overall pick for presumably a bunch of starters, preferably Canadian.

If the Riders top picks of the last couple of years, Josah St. John and Cameron Judge are any indication, the top picks sometimes tend to not be very helpful. So it will be interesting to see how the Riders unfold their roster, but one things seems to be clear – they are shaping up for a major run at the Grey Cup and looking to address their roster shortfalls by whatever means necessary.

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