Tuesday Takes - February 6, 2018 - Saskatchewan Roughriders Linebackers
Published: Tuesday, Feb 6th 2018, 6:02am
by Alex Dormuth (@RealAlexD)
We are one week away from the opening of CFL Free agency and teams are making some tough decisions on which players to keep and which players to let go. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are no exception and will have to make a couple decisions with the Linebackers on the current roster.
I think one of the first tough decisions was made on January 31st by Chris Jones. Jeff Knox Jr. was released by the Riders so that he can give the NFL another shot. Not that releasing him was hard, they did the same last year as well (and as we've seen with the James Wilder Jr. situation, it was the right thing to do), but I'm not 100% sure that Knox was going to be back with the Riders in 2018. He was set to be a free agent on February 13, but the Riders have some really good players in the middle of the defense and you can't play them all.
If Jeff Knox doesn't make the NFL, I'm sure he will be offered a contract by the Riders again, but depending on injuries or how others are performing, I'm not convinced that he will necessarily be needed. Knox is a great player, don't get me wrong, but he may be a bit too costly. Hard to say now, we just have to let this play out and see where we are at in September. Since that is so far away, let's take a look at who is currently on the Riders roster and what their role should be in 2018.
Brandyn Bartlett – Bartlett played a bit in 2017 on Special Teams, playing in 9 games, most at the end of the season. Bartlett will be back to challenge for a roster spot again and may see some time on defense this season.
Alexandre Chevrier – One of last year's draft picks, Chevrier will likely fight in Training Camp to get onto Special Teams. As a 7th round pick, if he even makes the roster, that's a good thing for the team. He'll have to compete with Dillon Grondin and Alexandre Gagne to make the roster.
Sam Eguavoen – Eguavoen burst onto the scene in 2016 and in 2017 really showed how good he can be. While he did have a few games where he didn't play well (all players have these), he really turned in up in the final half of the season and was one of the more improved players on the team. With Knox testing the NFL again, Eguavoen has the inside track to start at the WILL LB position and I think this is the year he explodes and becomes a divisional all-star.
Kevin Francis – Francis is a key, but perhaps undervalued piece to the Riders puzzle. He can play the SAM cover position in a pinch, he can fill in at Safety and he's great on Special Teams. Francis is a lock to make the team.
Otha Foster - An upcoming free agent, this is one of those tough decisions I was mentioning above. We were all excited when Foster came back from the NFL, but he had back issues and missed the final few games of the season. Regarded as one of the best SAM LBs in the league, the Riders D didn't really miss anything when Derrick Moncreif was the starter with Foster hurt. Foster will cost more money and I don't expect him back. The Riders can go younger and cheaper here.
Alexandre Gagne – An undrafted player, Gagne played in 1 game last year and will likely battle wtih Chevrier and Grondin to make the team on Special Teams.
Dillon Grondin – See Chevrier, Alexandre and Gagne, Alexandre. Grondin only played in 4 games last season after getting in a bunch in 2016. He'll have a battle to make the roster.
Cameron Judge – Last year's #2 overall draft pick, Judge got in on Defense and Special Teams immediately once he joined the Riders after finishing school. He will make the roster in 2018 and should see quite a bit of time on the field behind starting MLB Henoc Muamba.
Glenn Love – Love was my favourite signing of last season as I fully expected a big breakout season after playing sporadically in Calgary in 2016. Unfortunately, Love didn't get a lot of playing time in 2017, but I fully expect that to change this year as he will get on Special Teams and should see rotational duty with Eguavoen on Defense.
Derrick Moncreif – The surprise of the Riders Defense last year, Moncreif took over for an injured Otha Foster and impressed. We didn't hear his name much and that's a good thing when talking about DBs and cover LBs. As I mentioned when talking about Foster, I think Moncreif will be the starting SAM LB and Foster will be on his way out. I look forward to seeing what Moncreif can do if given a full time spot.
Henoc Muamba – Muamba had an up and down year last season, but really turned it on late in the year. He wasn't bad by any means, but just wasn't sticking out the way a MLB like a J.C. Sherritt or Solomon Elimimian does. Maybe I was just expecting more out of him, but I found Muamba out of position frequently in the first half of the season. Once we got some continuity on this side of the ball, Muamba played much better. He's one of the most important players on the team and I fully expect a bounce back year that could result in him being an all-star.
Overall, I don't think we see a lot of change with the Linebackers other than no Foster or Knox, but the team has the players to replace them. I expect big things out of the entire defense this season and the LBs will be a big part of it.
Don't forget, you can catch up on all the positional groups I've looked at already. Running Backs, Defensive Line, Offensive Line, Defensive Backs and Wide Receivers. Next week is the start of Free Agency, so I'll conclude this series of looking at the Riders roster by taking a look at the Quarterbacks and Special Teams.
****Thanks for reading. If you didn't know we have a bus trip from Regina to Saskatoon to watch the Saskatchewan Rush host the Calgary Roughnecks. Tickets are $85 a piece and they include the trip from Regina to the game and back, your game ticket, and there are prizes and surprises along the way. Come on out it will be a good time. For more info or to reserve your spot email firstname.lastname@example.org. We need to have final numbers in right away, so if you are interested, please let us know!****