Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roughriders acquire age, leadership in off-season

Simon, Foley bring veteran presence to club

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It's long been said by the men who have worn the green and white of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in years past that the best thing about playing for the franchise is the passionate fan base of crazy diehards.

And the worst?

The passionate fan base of crazy diehards.

What this all means is the Riders are an organization forever under the microscope in Saskatchewan, be it during the heat of the football season or the dead of winter. And when the franchise is coming off back-to-back losing campaigns and playing host to the Grey Cup this November, that magnification is just cranked up that much more.

Maybe that explains, in part, why GM Brendan Taman and head coach Corey Chamblin did so much this off-season to augment a squad that qualified for the playoffs last year, but is still just 13-23 since consecutive Grey Cup losses to the Montreal Alouettes in 2009 and 2010.

The most notable additions -- trading for slotback Geroy Simon and adding defensive pieces like Ricky Foley and Rey Williams -- make the Riders a little greyer around the edges. And that might just be a good thing for a squad that opened 3-0 last season, but then suffered through five and four-game losing streaks en route to an 8-10 record.

"The biggest thing you hope those guys bring is their veteran presence -- making sure we don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows," Chamblin said Tuesday in a conference call with media.

"We had a young team and I think we did that last year. But those guys also know how to win; Ricky coming off a Grey Cup and Geroy being one of the most prolific receivers of all time in this league. They know how to win and they bring a veteran presence to this team."

Critical to any success the Riders have in 2013 will be the play of quarterback Darian Durant, who threw for 3,878 yards and 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions last season. But Chamblin is pushing for more from his veteran pivot.

"I'd like to see him take that next step because I think he has the tools to be a great quarterback and to be remembered in this league," said Chamblin. "That's the pressure I put on him. Every time I see him I talk to him about it because he has that ability to be that Steve McNair-type (former Tennessee Titan) to take a game over with his legs and also with his arm. That's very unique and I don't think this league has had it for awhile. That's my pressure on him, saying this is your year, to make sure he takes that added step."

The Riders have already sold over 28,000 season tickets and with expanded capacity with the addition of Grey Cup seats, will have 40,000 for their season opener and 45,000 by the time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roll into town for the annual Labour Day Classic.

Asked about the distraction and pressure that comes with having the Grey Cup in your backyard Chamblin, entering his second season, deftly stiff-armed the question.

"I'm excited about the Grey Cup being here, but that excitement is for the city of Regina. The Grey Cup being here doesn't guarantee us being in it. No matter where it is, we'll work to get there."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

The CFL is conducting a series of teleconference previews on the league's teams. This is the fifth in that series.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 C7

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