Questions loom over Riders regarding vacancies

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The off-season will be a busy one for the Riders as they address they openings created by Tuesday’s announcement.

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What’s next for the Saskatchewan Roughriders?

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That’s the question looming over the CFL team after Tuesday’s announcement regarding the top levels of football operations and coaching staff.

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The Riders announced that Jeremy O’Day, the vice-president of football operations and general manager, and head coach Craig Dickenson will return for the 2023 season — the final year of each of their contracts.

They will be going forward without Jason Maas, the offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach, who was fired. The contracts of running game co-ordinator/offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore weren’t renewed.

The moves on the offensive side were made in response to the Riders (6-12) missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The changes were made with a goal of avoiding another non-playoff season.

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“We’ve already done a pretty deep dive into the season with Jeremy and I and the staff,” Dickenson said. “We feel there will be a lot of lessons learned from this season and one of them is we have to do a better job on offence. That’s why we had to make some changes there.”

The final regular-season rankings back up those changes. Offensively the Riders were in the bottom third of the CFL in most offence statistical categories.

“Productivity and we just weren’t good enough on offence,” Dickenson said when asked about firing Maas, who had one season remaining on his contract.

The offensive line was a huge issue. The Riders led the CFL with a team-record 77 sacks.

“This year was a prime example of how important the offensive line is,” O’Day said. “That’s certainly an area of focus for us and an area where we need to get better.”

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There are also questions at quarterback with Cody Fajardo expected to test the free-agent waters after being benched for the final two games of the regular season.

“We have a lot of evaluations taking place right now,” O’Day said. “We certainly haven’t made any decisions on the future of any of our players yet.”

Along with evaluating players, the Riders need to find replacements for Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo.

There are options at offensive co-ordinator.

Paul LaPolice could be available after being fired as the Ottawa Redblacks’ head coach on Oct. 1. LaPolice is familiar with the Riders, having served as the offensive co-ordinator in 2008 and 2009. He’s currently on the CFL on TSN panel, but might be convinced to rejoin the Riders.

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Khari Jones is another familiar name, having been the Riders’ quarterbacks coach in 2012 and 2013. He was the head coach and offensive co-ordinator of the Montreal Alouettes, but was fired on July 6 after a 1-3 start. Jones, who has plenty of experience as an offensive co-ordinator, is currently an offensive consultant with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Regina-born Marc Mueller is an intriguing prospect. He is in his ninth season with the Stampeders, and his third as the quarterbacks coach. The former University of Regina Rams signal-caller doesn’t have any experience as an offensive co-ordinator, making him a long-shot to become the Riders’ offensive co-ordinator.

The most prominent name floated around as a possible replacement for Fajardo is Bo Levi Mitchell, who was benched earlier this season in favour of Jake Maier. Mitchell, twice a Grey Cup champion and most-outstanding-player award recipient, struggled this season before being benched.

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There are concerns about Mitchell’s right shoulder, which would need to be addressed. However the 32-year-old Mitchell may have enough left to lead the Riders deep into the playoffs — an accomplishment the Riders weren’t able to reach, or even approach, in 2022.

mmccormick@postmedia.com

twitter.com/murraylp

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