Friday October 24, 2014

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Rider Insider

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Another week, another win.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers made the Saskatchewan Roughriders work for it, and caused the Rider Nation to sweat a bit, but the Green Machine came back for a 35-30 win in Sunday's Labour Day Classic XLVIII at a soldout Mosaic Stadium to up their record to a remarkable 7-2 at the midway point of the 2014 CFL season.

7-2! Need I remind you that last year's 8-1 start was the best in the franchise's 103 years and this year's bunch is right on the heels of it?

It's stunning really, when you think about it. Half of the roster from the 2013 Grey Cup champions was turned over either by bad luck or design but somehow this year's team just keeps finding a way to win week after week.

Actually it's not much of a mystery. Sunday's Labour Day Classic followed the script of most Rider games this year; they won the turnover battle, rolled up 160 yards rushing, and won the line of scrimmage battle.

It's not sexy, but it wins games.

Time will tell if it's enough to win when the chips are down in the fall but my spider senses tell me it will be.

And each week this team galvanizes more and more into perhaps the closest Roughrider team I've seen in my 16 years calling the games. The upper management of the club has noticed too.

"This is a better 'team' than last year, per se," Rider GM Brendan Taman told CKRM radio. "These guys go out and play and they play hard. They play together as a unit and they're doing a lot of good things."

And Taman himself is breathing a sigh of relief that star free agent receiver Weston Dressler signed on the dotted line last Thursday, fortifying this team even more for the stretch drive. In the thousands of contracts Taman's done over the years, this one might have been the toughest. Or at least, it came with the most pressure.

"A lot of people, from what I'm gathering, just assumed he was going to come back but if you would've walked into my office Tuesday or Wednesday of last week I would have told you he's probably not coming back," Taman admitted. "I talked to you in Vancouver about it and I wasn't comfortable with it then. You just don't get athletes turning down money to come back to a place regardless of the money and I'm not saying we were that low but it was tough.

"It wasn't tough to negotiate with him and his agent because they were really good people to deal with but it was tough internally because I just didn't know if we were going to get him. I told Jim Hopson on Wednesday that I didn't have a good feeling about this but as luck would have it, we worked hard at it, fought through some things, and made it work. I was really happy that we got back. It wasn't because of the pressure of getting him, but it was a true credit to him that he did come back."

And with that, all seems right in the world. Dressler didn't shoot the lights out in Sunday's game, in fact head coach Corey Chamblin described his first outing as "okay". But can we all agree that for the first eight games something was missing?

Now it's back.

But for how long? Dressler signed only a one year deal so are we going to be going through all of this again this winter?

"Maybe. Maybe not," Taman said. "We'll see how it goes the next few months. The bottom line for me was I didn't want to be playing against him for the next few months. I wanted him in green and helping us make a playoff push. I'm sure a lot of teams in the West Division cringed their teeth when they heard he was coming back to us because we got better."

Are the Riders the best team in the CFL? The standings say they're not, but they're close. And they're getting better at precisely the right time.

(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)


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