Nye: Training Camp Preview - Defense/Special Teams

Jamie Nye's Blog

For Part 2 of the Riders training camp preview here is a break down on the defense and special teams as they head into camp on Sunday

DEFENSIVE LINE (* denotes Canadian)
STILL HERE – Dylan Ainsworth*, Rory Connop*, Tim Agbaje*, Markus White, Levi Steinhauer*
IN – Shawn Lemon, Justin Capicciotti*, Caesar Rayford, Hasan Hazime*, Eric Norwood, Corvey Irvin, Jonathan Williams
OUT – John Chick (HAM), Tearrius George, Brandon Tennant*, Andre Monroe, Ryan Wellman, Derek Walker, Alex Hall

Lets start on the edge for the Riders. Over the last two years, the Riders have lost John Chick and Ricky Foley, who were a dynamic duo off the edge on the way to a 2013 Grey Cup.

Well the Riders are going back to the American / Canadian split on the edge with Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti. Thanks to free agency the Riders have solidified their outside pass rush and the latest addition of Eric Norwood helps the Riders depth.

The Riders are also playing a position of strength with Canadian depth along the defensive line. Behind Capicciotti is Dylan Ainsworth, who needs to prove he's more than just a special teams contributor in his third season in Saskatchewan. And if need be one of the Canadian defensive tackles who struggled in their rookie season can rotate in from time to time.

And that's where we go to the most important battle in camp on the line is at the tackle position. Up the middle the Roughriders weren't very strong in 2015 with Rory Connop and Tim Agbaje just not ready to hold down a starting spot. That's where Hasan Hazime comes in. A veteran Canadian defensive tackle who will set the bar for the sophomore tackles.

I expect the Riders will need Connop and Agbaje to make vast improvements from last year with only three internationals entering camp, as of now.

With the retirement of Tearrius George and his legal problem, the team is bringing in Jonathan Williams (though not officially on the roster yet), who has played in Chris Jones' defense before. Behind him you have Caesar Rayford and former Alouettes Corvey Irvin. Markus White and Eric Norwood could be tasked to slide into the middle of the defensive line and are versatile enough to do so.

Irvin is more of the natural nose tackle run stopper, while Rayford, Norwood and White have more of a history coming off the edge. It'll be an interesting rotation up the middle of the Riders line will include veterans, rookies, young Canadians and if the Canucks show improvement what a win it would be for the Riders and their internation to national ratio!

LINEBACKERS
STILL HERE – Jeff Knox Jr., Nehemie Kankolongo*
IN – Greg Jones, Samuel Eguavoen, Alex Ogbongbemiga*, Otha Foster
OUT – Shea Emry*, Jake Doughty, Denicos Allen, Nathan Kanya*, Kevin Regimbald*, Kyle Norris*

Right now, this is a thin depth chart at linebacker for the team but with the addition of Greg Jones from Toronto it is a solidified linebacker corps.

Jones adds an athletic and physical presence along side the Riders brightest spot from 2015, Jeff Knox Jr. Those two will be a great one-two to try to improve the run defense and can get around in coverage if necessary as well.

Samuel Eguavoen is the only other international linebacker who has his work cut out for him to find a role.

Nehemie Kankolongo and draft pick Alex Ogbongbemiga won't only be fun to try to say if they show well in camp but definitely have to play out a role on special teams to stick around after camp.

The other linebacker spot is more a coverage/defensive back spot and right now Otha Foster is the veteran coming down from Edmonton who played what is known as the SAM linebacker position for Head Coach Chris Jones with the Eskimos. We'll have to keep our eye out in camp to see which other defensive backs make their way closer to the line to try their hand at it.

I'd expect to see one or two players added at linebacker in the next day as they finish off their camp roster.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
STILL HERE – Tyree Hollins, Matt Webster*, Dan West*
IN – Ed Gainey, Derrius Brooks, Graig Newman*, Tevaughn Campbell*, Kwame Adjei*, David Barks, Marte Sears, Curtis Brown, Johnathan Shuler
OUT – Tyron Brackenridge, Weldon Brown, Macho Harris (WPG), Junior Mertile, Paul Woldu*, Keenan MacDougall*, Marshay Green, Tristan Jackson, Hugo Lopez, Don Unamba, Terrell Maze, Alex Suber

This was a complete overhaul from what we saw in 2015 and it was a necessary because it was hard to watch this unit get dominated throughout the year.

Ed Gainey, Derrius Brooks and Tyree Hollins have the jump start on the other DBs, based on their experience in the league. I'm glad to see Hollis get a shot to prove his worth as he appeared to be a nice find during camp and in the season last year. And the defensive front didn't exactly help out the back end last year.

Derrius Brooks returns to the CFL after giving the NFL a try and could make a great improvement at one of the half back spots. Ed Gainey is a consistent corner, who is the standard Jones will want to see players meet or exceed.

That's where Shuler, Barks, Sears and Brown come in. Sears was in Eskimo camp last year so clearly Jones liked something from him outside of his 6'5 frame. Curtis Brown has the most experience playing 34 games in the NFL with Pittsburgh. Shuler had some time at an NFL camp while Barks is just 20-years old after going to a small university in Michigan.

It's necessary that two of these players prove they can start before Jones and Player Personnel man John Murphy have to start looking down their list of prospects.

Now, lets get to the safety position and the nice depth chart of Canadians they have to play in the secondary. All of these players can help out on special teams without question but who can hold down a starting spot? Matt Webster and Graig Newman are the top two right now. Kwame Adjei has nice size that Jones definitely will like. Campbell's got the speed to make up some ground (CIS medalist in track and field) as he works at his craft. It'll be interesting to see who slides to the wide side corner spot to help out the depth chart behind one of the international players.

SPECIAL TEAMS
STILL HERE – Tyler Crapigna*, Jorgen Hus*
IN – Quinn Van Gylswyk*, Josh Bartel*
OUT – Paul McCallum*, Ray Early

The Riders tabbed Crapigna as a prospect who could be a long time field goal kicker in this league when he came over from Calgary in the Jerome Messam deal.

Then, the Riders drafted Quinn Van Gylswyk out of UBC, who has the qualities of a kicker who can do all three (FG, kickoffs, punt).

This is actually going to be a very interesting camp for the kickers because Josh Bartel returns as that steady veteran if the youngster doesn't punt well under the watchful eye of Special Teams Coach Craig Dickenson.

On the field goal side, it'll be a kickoff for now with the rookie against the sophomore. The Riders will be wet behind the ears for FGs this year but both were impressive in college.

Now lets talk kick returners. I think it'll be tough for someone to grab hold of return duties away from Nic Demski and Kendial Lawrence. Devrin Young, Ryan Lankford and Etauj Allen will be among the half dozen or so that will likely get a look in the pre-season games.

Long snapper = Jorgen Hus, Jorgen Hus = long snapper.

NYE'S NEW FACES TO WATCH ON DEFENSE

Defensive back Derrius Brooks – As he comes back from the NFL, Brooks has the play making ability to become an all-star calibre defensive back. The big issue will be the transition back to the CFL game but with the rules in both leagues now more in line (other than receivers getting a running head star) it's should be that big an issue.

Defensive back Marte Sears – We all know Chris Jones like long, athletic, physical DBs. Well he's the biggest of them all and will either be a monster, shut down corner in the making or be a player that looks good on paper, but not so much the field.

Defensive back Curtis Brown – Yes, there should be plenty of attention paid to the back field as more or less the front seven is veteran laden. Brown has NFL experience and could be a player who finds himself on the opening 46 man roster after camp.

Safety Graig Newman – He was with the Riders when they won the Grey Cup in 2013 and now the Saskatoon Hilltop standout is back and could claim what could (should?) have been his spot in the defense as a Canadian safety. Football IQ is high but has a lot of challengers including Matt Webster.

Defensive tackle Caesar Rayford – Rayford is a giant at 6'7 and while mainly a pass rusher in the NFL will be tasked to make the move inside. He'll have to out play two CFL vets in Irvin and Williams but from reports in mini-camp he was a force to be reckoned with.