In our continuing effort to eliminate Eastern bias within our lifetime, we're working West to East to preview the 2007 CIS football season. Presenting: the Regina Rams.
In '06: 4-5, lost to Manitoba in Canada West semi-final
Players to watch: WR Chad Goldie, RB Graham Mosiondz, OL Brendon LaBatte, QB Teale Orban, LB Steve Wilson, DB-KR Steve Ryan
Head coach: Frank McCrystal (24th season, including junior football)
Co-ordinators: Bernie Schmidt (offensive), Paul Dawson (defensive), Steve Warnecke (special teams)
Last league title: 2000
Big ones: Sept. 21 vs. UBC, Oct. 6 vs. Calgary, Oct. 27 vs. Saskatchewan
On the web: reginarams.com
Strengths: Rumour has it the reason the CIS has shifted to a 24-second clock for basketball is to avoid having teams be outscored by the Rams' Teale Orban-led offence. They're never out of a game, although both star pass-catchers from last season have gone to the CFL.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Teams typically find that the best way to bottle up Orban is to keep him on the sidelines. The Rams couldn't stop the run last season, giving up 213.8 yards per game and allowing more first downs along the ground than all but Toronto and Simon Fraser, last season's two winless teams.
It can be assumed the Rams' run-pass ratio was unbalanced last season since they were throwing the ball so well -- why run just for running's sake? Mosiondz and rookie tailback Taylor Kidby might get more touches since the Rams might be trying not to put too much pressure on their defence.
Orban has a good group around him on offence. The line returns almost intact, while receivers Jordan Sisco and Chad Goldie put up numbers last season when they were the No. 3 and 4 receivers next to dearly departed Chris Bauman and Chris Getzlaf. Keep an eye peeled for rookie wideout Kolten Solomon, who might see the field straight out of high school after leading his school to provincial hoops and football titles.
Orban, meantime, could become the first Canada West passer in several seasons to put up 2,500 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Much will depend on how well the defensive line can keep blockers off a group of linebackers that includes Steve Wilson (the CIS leader in tackles last season) and newcomers Matt Nesbitt and Scott Magee. The Rams lost tackles Sean Brimacombe and Jon Labonte, which means it might have trouble getting stops when it's second down and less than five yards for a first down. The secondary should benefit from Ryan's decision to play a fifth season.
The Rams have another Ryan in this area. Former standout Jon Ryan is punting for the Green Bay Packers and his brother Steve thrives at returning punts -- he took two back for TDs in '06. Perri Scarcelli handles all the kicking for Regina. Nesbitt can also long snap.
Canada West has two clear heavies -- Manitoba and Saskatchewan -- and four teams having it out for third and fourth place. The Rams will get two of those teams, UBC and Calgary, at home. Those games, along with the home-and-home vs. Alberta, will decide how far they go. McCrystal's teams always have a lot of talent on offence and know how to use it, but this team might be a year or two away from really being a contender in Canada West, since it's using a lot of young players.
That's all for now. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.