Chris Jones has watched his linebacking corps all through camp and has been happy with what he’s seen.
They’re a young group — not a single one is over the age of 30 — but Jones doesn’t seem worried about that.
“It’s a good group of guys. They’re not overly experienced. You’ve got a couple guys that have played some football in the league but they’ve done a real nice job of picking what we do and they played fast at camp so I look forward to seeing exactly where they stack up,” Jones said.
If Derrick Moncrief’s preseason is any indication, he’ll continue to stand out. There was a stretch in first quarter where every offensive play was broken up by his hands and he really came on late in the 2017 season.
He said Rider fans should expect more of that from him this year.
“I hold myself to a high standard on the field,” Moncrief said Wednesday. “My offseason I trained really hard and I’m ready to make a step (forward).”
His offseason work did not go unnoticed by his head coach, who mentioned Moncrief came into training camp this season 25 pounds lighter.
“When he showed up last year he was about 235 pounds, which is too heavy for playing (outside linebacker) and he was a little bit sluggish and slow,” Jones said. “I remember one time he intercepted a ball last year and we had defensive lineman passing him when he got fatigued … He’s come back somewhere in the neighbourhood of 210 pounds and he’s playing like he should play.”
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Jones added. “He’s a very instinctual player but he was a very instinctual player last year. He came back more ready to play.”
Moncrief joins a young linebacker group who added its oldest member in free agency.
At 28 years old Sam Hurl and his seven CFL seasons make him the cagey vet among 25-year-olds Samuel Eguavoen and Moncrief as well as 23-year-old sophomore Cameron Judge.
Hurl will take the place of middle linebacker Henoc Muamba who was released by the Riders in February. Muamba wracked up 82 tackles and two interceptions in the green and white last season and is considered one of the best in the game, but Hurl doesn’t feel the pressure.
“I’m coming here, I’m going to play my own game,” said Hurl who is on his second stint with the Roughriders. “I feel like I have a reputation as well and I obviously want to build on that … I’m looking forward to playing out here and having an opportunity to be the middle linebacker.”
It’s a role he’ll share with Eguavoen as Jones has opted for a linebacker rotation that will Eguavoen and Hurl share time in the middle.
Regardless of the position, though, the players said they have a lot of fun playing in Jones’ defensive system.
“It’s a great defence,” Hurl said. “(Jones) trusts his players to be in the right position and allow them to be the guys that make the play. I like that it allows us not to think too much and just fly around.”
“This team in particular, I find, is very competitive and we get after it, so it’s good,” he added.