'Big shoes to fill' as Riders look to new season sans Chris Jones' defensive chops

It's one thing to replace Chris Jones the head coach. But it's a totally different matter to replace Chris Jones, the defensive coordinator.

Jones built quite a repetition in the CFL for being a defensive genius.

He has one Grey Cup ring as a head coach, but he owns four rings from Grey Cup teams on which he ran the defence.

Jones is now a senior defensive specialist with the Cleveland Browns.

Jones' defection to the NFL created several vacancies in the Riders' football operations department.

Craig Dickenson was given the keys to the head coach's office, while Jason Shivers moved into the office of the D.C.

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That's how Shivers responded to his very first question as the new defensive coordinator on Monday when asked what we can expect.

"Without effort, without getting to the football and having the right mentality, you can match up and do whatever you want to do. But without effort, you are not going to be successful."

Effort was not an issue for the 2018 Roughriders, so basically Shivers is looking to pick up where they left off.

Duplicating 2018 however, will be a monumental task.

The Roughriders tied a CFL single-season record with 11 defensive touchdowns.

They led the league in interceptions and tied for the league lead in quarterback sacks.

They were the reason the Roughriders did as well as they did, in spite of an unproductive offence.

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Some very important spokes of that defensive wheel moved on during free agency including Willie Jefferson, Samuel Eguavoen, and Tobi Antigha.

But they were more than adequately replaced with defensive linemen Micah Johnson and A.C. Leonard, plus linebacker Soloman Elimimian.

Johnson, Elimimian and Charleston Hughes may be getting on in years, but in their prime, those three together on the same defence would have and may still be a solid base for a CFL all-star team.

With a proper rotation to keep those three healthy and fresh, Shivers will have himself a formidable group to work with.

"I'm gonna let my dogs hunt," said Shivers of his strategy, but there will be more to it than just letting them off the leash.

To work all that talent into a cohesive unit is what Shivers will need to draw on from what he learned from his mentor.

"Big shoes to fill for sure," said Shivers on taking over for Jones.

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There doesn't appear to be any concern from those now under Shivers' direction.

Jefferson was a big loss but with Leonard and Hughes on the edges, Johnson and Zack Evans plugging up the middle, the secondary feels that with the added depth on the front line, they will have plenty of opportunities to pad their turnover stats.

"I thought I was excited last year but this year I'm really licking my chops," said defensive back Ed Gainey, whose interception tally was only three last year compared to 10 in 2017.

There are certainly no worries from the man who is now filling Jones' head coaching shoes.

"Shivers was up in that box calling quite a bit of defence, this isn't his first rodeo in this system." said Dickenson.

"He's got a great rapport with the players, he's very organized, very intelligent, I think he's going to do a great job."

Camp notes

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Linebacker Soloman Elimimian has yet to make an appearance on the field at Riders' camp. As a vice president of the Canadian Football League Players' Association (CFLPA), Elimimian is touring the country briefing players on the collective bargaining agreement.

Paul McRoberts was a day two standout at Griffifths Stadium. McRoberts, a six-foot-three receiver from SE Missouri State was a human highlight reel on Monday, making several jaw dropping catches.

The Riders also suffered what appeared to be their first serious injury of camp. Defensive lineman Jordan Reaves was helped off the field after going down during one-on-ones.

Second round draft choice Brayden Lenius left Sunday's practice with a suspected hamstring injury. He is expected to miss 10-15 days.