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Safety Mike Edem believes loss of Garett Marino was turning point in Riders’ season

Photo Courtesy: Ticats.ca

Fans are still looking for answers after the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ disappointing 2022 season, but veteran safety expert Mike Edem thinks he knows where it all went wrong.

At a performance on 620 CKRM‘s The SportsCage this week, the 33-year-old identified the turning point in the team’s season as the moment they lost controversial defender Garrett Marino.

“I can’t speak for offense, I can only speak for our defense and the situation I was involved in. I know when you lose a guy like Marino, the presence he commands as a disruptive nose attack accounting for double teams and triple teams allowed that [Anthony] Lanier, Peter [Robertson] and AC [Leonard] to have a lot of one-on-ones,” Edem said.

“You look at the sack numbers while he was there, we played great defense and I think when Marino was out of the picture it kind of forced us to dribble the ball left-handed and the rest of the way to defend with the left hand.”

The Riders opened the season with a 4-1 record before Marino changed the narrative around the team with his late goal against quarterback Jeremiah Masoli late in the dying moments of a win over the Ottawa Redblacks. The goal resulted in a sacking and Marino was later banned for four games by the CFL for the game and his behavior in the area, including allegations of making racist remarks towards his victim.

Marino eventually returned and played three more games following his suspension, but was released after ongoing allegations of illegal play became a distraction for the team. He was barred from signing with another CFL team and is currently signed to the USFL’s Michigan Panthers.

The Riders took a 2-11 lead after the controversy and production on their vaunted defensive line, which got off to a blisteringly hot start, dried up as the season progressed. While both players also missed significant time through injuries, at the end of Star Rush, Robertson and Leonard didn’t record a sack in a game where Marino was undressed, finishing the season with nine and three, respectively.

“Kudos to the guys for making adjustments and some guys had to carry more on their shoulders but we were a competitive defense,” Edem said. “Not once has a team come out and blown us away. We played a good defense.”

“I think a few changes here or there might affect a game or two and we’ll get into the playoffs. We can sit here and say we’re talking about what could have been, but the reality is we just need to get better all around.”

While the loss of Marino to controversy had a significant impact on the drivers’ chances, it wasn’t the only high-profile challenge the team faced. Saskatchewan was forced to play with a skeleton team in a Week 7 loss to Toronto due to a COVID outbreak and was hit with stomach flu in a Banjo Bowl blowout against Winnipeg.

“People don’t really understand what we’ve been through this season,” noted Edem. “Being in Winnipeg with this virus, seeing guys go down, walking down the hall at the hotel and hearing guys throw up. Before the game, guys try to give their teammates an IV to somehow get them going. I think of the toll on the team – guys flying in from Saskatchewan to fill the roster and guys coming in sick and trying to find a way to help us play – and then we go out and expect to play at a high level.”

“We did our best and it didn’t end well. We had that and we had the COVID situation, it was just one of those years. One after another just kept happening and we just couldn’t stop the bleeding.”

These compounding factors made the 2022 team look worse than it was, but Edem is not yet sure he can be part of the solution going forward. The former Calgary Dino would like to play at least another year before retiring but will reach free agency after his fifth season as a driver.

So far, there is no indication if the team intends to re-sign their starting security. Given last season’s failures, Edem understands changes may be on the way.

“GMs and coaches are held to a standard and they have to come up with a plan that shows the fanbase that they’re still trying to win games. I think what they’re going through right now is this process of just coming up with a plan and executing that plan,” he said.

“As a player, you just hope to be part of that plan. You can’t cry over spilled milk; They mop it up, go to the store to buy a new one, and keep moving.”

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