SASKATOON - 2013 Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp opened on Sunday in Saskatoon with a pair of workouts and although there was just a smattering of fans on hand for the morning session, the stands at Griffiths Stadium were packed for the afternoon practice.
What the fans saw was an absolutely staggering amount of talent assembled on that synthetic turf! I mean, really, Roughrider GM Brendan Taman and head coach Corey Chamblin have put together a virtual All Star team for 2013 as Saskatchewan gets set to play host to the Grey Cup this November at Mosaic Stadium which is being renovated to accommodate 44,000 fans.
First of all though, welcome back and thanks for reading this weekly Rider Insider column again this season here in Weyburn This Week. This is a monumental year and it's shaping up to be a thrill-a-minute!
When we last left you the Roughriders were walking off the field in Calgary following a crushing 36-30 last-minute defeat to the Stampeders in the West Division Semifinal in November. Although rookie coach Chamblin posted a three-win improvement from the disastrous year before (8-10), he knew that the club lacked a veteran presence if they are serious about challenging for the Grey Cup in Regina this time around.
They got that in spades this off-season landing the CFL's all-time leading receiver Geroy Simon from BC in a January trade and a month later Taman came out as the undisputed winner in free agency landing the 2012 Grey Cup Top Canadian, defensive end Ricky Foley, along with defensive back Dwight Anderson who's generally regarded as the tops at his position in the CFL. The Riders also stole defensive back Weldon Brown from Edmonton and linebacker Tristan Black from the Grey Cup champion Argos.
However the piece de resistance didn't come until Sunday morning, just a few hours before the start of training camp. That's when the team officially announced the signing of free agent defensive end John Chick. The Wyoming product won a Grey Cup with the Riders in 2007 and was the CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2009 before bolting to the NFL for subsequent stops in Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
However after a brief auction for his services last week between bidders Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Calgary, Chick elected to "come back home".
To me that's the icing on the cake. The cherry on top. This signing is what should push the Riders over the edge and into the Grey Cup in their own stadium once the snow starts flying.
Although I have the Riders pegged for a second-place finish in the West (remember Chamblin has a lot of work ahead of him bringing all these new faces together), it's my bold prediction that this club will be back in the dance for the first time since 2010.
And, after a bitterly long, cold winter, the dance is finally about to begin!