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2012 Canada West Preview: Regina Rams

2011 Record: 5-3, third in Canada West (3-5 and fourth in Canada West prior to UBC being stripped of their wins ). 147 points for (fifth in Canada West), 198 points against (third in Canada West).

Head Coach: Frank McCrystal, 14th year as head coach (49-54-1 record)

Key Losses: SB Brendan Owens, RB Adrian Charles, DL Akiem Hicks, DB Mike Kerr, LB Austin Bates

Key Additions: DB Mason Rossler

Key Offensive Starters: QB Marc Mueller, SB Jared Janotta, WR Ian Miller, OL Brett Jones

Key Defensive Starters: CB Jamir Walker, LB Chris Scoig, HB Justin Edralin, DL Stefan Charles

Outlook: Just like last year, and similar to their 2008 team, the Rams come into the season looking very solid. They lost only four starters from their 2011 squad, one which looked very promising until quarterback Marc Mueller went down with a season ending shoulder injury a few minutes into their first game of the season.

Because Mueller was injured so early in the season, he was able to sit out as a medical red-shirt, and is eligible to return for his fifth-year this season. He will do just that, however, he will not have two of his regular offensive contributors to rely on, as receiver Brendan Owens and running back Adrian Charles have graduated. The void Charles leaves the Rams will be difficult for them to fill.

Zach Hart tackles Ram receiver Ian Miller (photo by Matt Smith for Liam Richards Photography)

Offensively, the Rams struggled last season after losing Mueller, going through three quarterbacks before settling on converted slotback Zach Oleynik for the second half of the season. As was expected, Adrian Charles shouldered the load on offence, accounting for 75 per cent of the Rams rushing yards and 35 per cent of their entire offensive output.

It’s not that surprising that Charles was relied upon so heavily in 2011, especially considering Mueller’s status, but his numbers were actually consistent with what he put up in 2010. That season, Charles accounted for 72 per cent of the Rams rushing total and just under 30 per cent of their total offence. He was relied on to not only advance the ball and score touchdowns, but to take the pressure off of the passing game by keeping defences guessing. Charles was a huge part of the Rams’ offence over the past two years, and his ability to take over and create opportunities for the passing game will be sorely missed. I have yet to see many Canada West observers take this into account when making their predictions for the 2012 season.

The offense will rely on their veteran offensive line to keep Mueller healthy and productive, with four of five starters, and two backups, entering their fifth years of eligibility. This area should be a strength, as will an experienced receiving corps, who return leading receiver Jared Janotta, who had 502 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 2011. Fifth-year receivers Mark McConkey and Ian Miller will also be relied upon heavily.

While the Rams’ passing game looks dangerous on paper, it will be interesting to see how Mueller’s arm has recovered and how he will stand up to the punishment of the Canada West regular season. The Rams better hope Mueller’s arm has recovered to full strength, as they may well be one injury away from complete disaster again since they did little to upgrade their game-ready depth with their lackluster 2012 recruiting class.

Defensively, the Rams return a veteran squad, losing only three starters. However, the one loss is a big one: All-Canadian defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was the Rams’ top defensive player last year. They return a good defensive line, led by fifth-year tackles Stefan Charles and Benton Gieni, and will have a solid front seven, one which was responsible for the second best rushing defence in the conference last season, giving up 983 yards through eight games. It will be interesting to see how the defensive line fares this year without Hicks being double teamed by the opposing offensive line each play.

Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren eludes Rams Austin Bates (left) and Akiem Hicks (photo by Derek Moretensen for Liam Richards photography)

As on offence, the Rams have veterans at each position, with seven of their expected starters entering their fifth years. This includes linebacker Chris Scoig, who had 29.5 tackles, two tackles for a loss and an interception, and dimeback Steve Famulak, who had 14 tackles, two tackles for a loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The secondary will likely have three fifth-year seniors, including safety Kirby Kezama and cornerbacks Jamir Walker and Cody Johnstone. Third-year player Justin Edralin, who finished tied for second on the team with 30 tackles, should keep his halfback position while fourth-year player Dan Knaus will likely take over from the graduated Mike Kerr at the opposite halfback.

One challenge the Rams will face this season is working young players into the lineup. They are anticipating big things from defensive backs Tevaughn Campbell and Kahlen Branning and would like to see more of Tyler Mantyak and Zach Gorski at linebacker. Ideally, they will build up big leads and give their young players plenty of second-half playing time, but with the parity in the conference this year, it would appear that their only chances for dominant wins would come against the Alberta Golden Bears. The Rams will play both the Calgary Dinos (who they haven’t defeated since October 6, 2007) and UBC Thunderbirds twice this year, both teams they were unable to defeat last season, and will play the Huskies only once, in Saskatoon, where they have one win in 13 seasons.

Considering their veteran lineup, the Rams may feel this is their year. If they are going to put things together and make a long run in the playoffs and capture their first Hardy Trophy since 2000, they will need to do it this year, as they will have a major rebuild the next couple of years. The Rams have 22 players entering their fifth year of eligibility, and at least 17 of those players are expected to be starters. Even if they have a few veteran backups ready to step in in 2013, returning only eight of 25 starters will mean tough times ahead. Expect a more focused and determined Rams squad than we’ve seen in the past, one which will certainly be a threat come playoff time, should all the pieces fall into place.

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