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Andrew Bucholtz

Riders hoping they'll improve with age

Andrew Bucholtz
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The Saskatchewan Roughriders made an interesting move Friday, signing veteran import defensive tackle Dario Romero only days after releasing Marcus "Chunky" Adams, an import who plays the same position. Often when you see a team let go of one guy and bring in another, the rationale is the standard "we're trying to get younger," but that doesn't apply in this case; Romero (pictured at right celebrating an Aug. 28 sack against the Riders) is 32, while Adams is only 31.

By the statistics, both players are reasonably similar. In fact, Adams' 2010 season was slightly better by the numbers, as he recorded 26 tackles on defence and two sacks, while Romero put up 24 and one. Both recorded one fumble. Romero has the advantage in physical dimensions, though (he's 6'3'' and 300 pounds, while Adams is 5'11'' and 285), and even the supposed disadvantage of his age may prove to be anything but.

The Regina Leader-Post's Rob Vanstone noted that the Riders have 17 players aged 30 or older on their roster at the moment. That's 26.6 per cent of their current roster, which is the highest percentage in the league (Calgary's next at 23.6 per cent, while rebuilding squads Winnipeg and Edmonton are at the bottom with figures of 18.8 and 16.4 per cent respectively. Those figures don't necessarily tell the entire story, as rosters are anything but complete at the moment and Vanstone's calculations treat 31-year-olds and 37-year-olds equally (and also don't distinguish between starters and backups), but they do suggest that Saskatchewan has quite a veteran-heavy team. Romero is just the latest addition to that lineup.

What does that mean from a competitive standpoint? Well, far from the weakness some would see a lineup of older players as, there's a chance it could be a very good thing. As I wrote earlier this year, there's a fair bit of evidence that many CFL players not only survive, but thrive long into their 30s. Last season's divisional all-stars saw 37 per cent of the East team and 48 per cent of the West team being 30 or older at the time, and that suggests to me that there are quite a few older players who are still dominant.

Part of that's probably thanks to how different the CFL's rules and strategies are from the NFL or NCAA. It takes some time for players to adjust to the Canadian game, and that perhaps allows older, craftier players who already have a handle on the strategy to do well against younger and quicker guys who haven't spent much time north of the 49. Veteran players also are already used to the 18-game grind of the CFL, and they often understand the importance of everyone doing the job they're assigned and doing it well. There's a reason "veteran leadership" is often cited, and it's not entirely a cliché.

For the long term, you obviously want to develop younger players and work them in, as the old guys aren't going to be around forever. That's why it makes plenty of sense for both Winnipeg and Edmonton to go with a youth movement; both teams' 2010 showings made it look like they need to do some rebuilding, so why not work in more young players than you might normally and try to develop a strong core that can help you in seasons to come? For Saskatchewan, though, this is a team that's come very close to winning the Grey Cup in two straight seasons. They're not that far away, and they obviously have plenty of talent; they also do have some younger players that they're bringing along as well, so it's not like they only have greybeards. Considering where they're at, though, if a veteran-heavy lineup maximizes their chances of winning it all in 2011, that's probably a good move to make.

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