Roughriders host Blue Bombers to open new season

Jun 24, 2015 - 3:05 PM Regina, SK (Sports Network) - As the only team in the West Division not to make it to the playoffs last season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers seek a fresh start in 2015 as they kick off the season against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday.

Winnipeg opened up the 2014 season with three straight wins and victories in five of the first six outings, but the squad won just two more times the rest of the way.

This time around head coach Mike O'Shea is hoping for more favorable results throughout the season as he puts the ball in the hands of quarterback Drew Willy. The signal-caller ranked third in the league during the 2014 regular season with 3,769 passing yards, completing a solid 63.8 percent of his attempts, yet he ended up with more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14).

Although he hails from tiny Arkansas-Monticello, Clarence Denmark will again be asked to shoulder most of the load in the receiving department after placing second in the CFL with 1,080 yards on 65 catches. However, reaching the end zone only three times was a bit under whelming.

Winnipeg was last in the league with only 291.7 ypg on offense, including second from the bottom with only 84.1 ypg on the ground. Paris Cotton will again shoulder the load in that department, after averaging 5.5 yards per attempt.

Not only do the Blue Bombers have to dial it up on offense, they need to address some of the issues that plagued them on defense last season as well, after surrendering 338.6 ypg (second-most in the league). According to the CFL stat sheets, Winnipeg's run defense was especially brutal, giving up 152 first downs on the ground, 29 more than first-year Ottawa.

While the defense for the Bombers was logging only 43 quarterbacks sacks, just six more than the RedBlacks, the offensive line for the squad was giving up a league-high 71.

As for the Roughriders, they made it to the first round of the playoffs in 2014 but were quickly dismissed following a loss to Edmonton, 18-10. Head coach Corey Chamblin, now in his fourth season at the helm, had the team off and running with eight wins in the first 10 games, then barely squeezed into the postseason with a 10-8 mark.

Chamblin and the rest of the Riders are expecting a more consistent and sustained effort this time around and that all begins with the play of quarterback Darian Durant. The University of North Carolina product has been a constant in Riderville since breaking in with Saskatchewan back in 2006, although he missed quite a bit of action in 2014 after suffering a season- ending elbow injury to his throwing arm.

Durant is back in the saddle, but will have to deal with the fact that offensive coordinator George Cortez, the one who helped shape a 2013 Grey Cup Champion, has been cut loose. Perhaps a new perspective from OC Jacques Chapdelaine will have lasting results, although a pass-happy attack will also put that much more pressure on Durant and keep him in the sights of defenses all the more.

Good news for Durant is that receivers Rob Bagg, Chris Getzlaf and Weston Dressler will all have a hand in the success of the passing game. On the ground, Anthony Allen will try to get even closer to the 1,000-yard mark, a standard he missed by just 70 yards as he placed second in the league in rushing in 2014.

Not only did Chamblin jettison Cortez, he also mixed up the coaching staff on the other side of the ball by moving Greg Quick into the defensive coordinator position. Quick has the luxury of letting loose the top sack man from last year, John Chick, although the defensive end did not play in the last preseason game because he apparently was attending his brother's wedding. As of Wednesday morning he was still listed on the team's suspended list, but that should change given the fact that he had a career-high 15 sacks last season.

Also giving the defense a boost will be Shea Emry, a linebacker brought over from Toronto after he led the Argonauts in tackles with 72.

The Riders ran the table in the three meetings last season, although the meetings were highly competitive and decided by six points or less. Winnipeg hosted in Week 7 and came up short in a 23-17 final, the same going for a 30-24 setback in Week 11. At the end of August Saskatchewan claimed a 35-30 win in front of the hometown crowd.

These two teams will face each other two more times during the regular season, playing a home-and-home series in a span of six days in September, with Saskatchewan hosting in Week 11 and then hitting the road less than a week later.

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