SASKATOON-On the surface, it would appear somebody with credentials like Jerome Messam would be a lock to make any CFL team.
As a Canadian running back, he’s a ratio changer who can fill one of the mandated 7 starting non-import positions somewhere outside of the offensive line.
A reported base salary of $120k, the ‘Brampton Bus’ sounds like a bargain basement price for the Saskatchewan Roughriders who desperately need import flexibility if they are to alleviate concerns about a suspect O-line by the end of training camp.
It all sounded like such a good fit when the Roughriders signed him out of free agency back in February.
The problem is that now in training camp the fit doesn’t look quite so perfect after all.
Lack of Canadian Depth Could Be Messam’s Undoing
Rider Head Coach Chris Jones still raves about Jerome’s ability, describing the veteran entering his 9thpro season as someone who “plays as good as any American” and that’s why he signed Messam in the first place.
But even the coach knows fitting him in will be a lot more complicated, “If you can’t back him up with another (Canadian) tailback, then you’ll have an American and it’s got to be a ratio (changer) somewhere else.”
The Riders plethora of Canadian running backs in camp who could serve as such a backup consists only of tiny 5 foot 9, 190-pound rookie Bryce Vieira. He put up great numbers at the University of Ottawa over the past 4 years but it remains to be seen if his miniature frame is capable of withstanding the punishing hits from linebackers much bigger and faster than just about anyone he ever faced at the U Sports level.
If he doesn’t make the cut, that’s one problem for Messam, but there’s more.
The emergence of Zac Stacy
Coach Jones is no stranger to coaxing players out of retirement to fill a need as evidenced by last year’s signing of quarterback Vince Young. He did it again last fall with running back Marcus Thigpen and for the playoffs, that worked pretty well.
Jones went to the well again at the start of training camp this year when he lured running back Zac Stacy out of retirement. Stacy, who did 3 seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets, had been out of football for 2 years.
Stacy’s comeback story has been overshadowed by Johnny Manziel’s comeback story but he’s impressed the coaches enough to get plenty of the first-team reps in camp. Jones appears to see him as a legitimate solution as the team’s main running back, “I’ve known Zac or at least known who he was since he was in high school” Jones said after a morning workout in Saskatoon this week.
“A good buddy of mine actually coached against him when he was in high school so I’ve been tracking him for quite some time. It’s one of those deals where you get to see one of those guys grow up at both levels and so when he became available and we needed a running back, here was there.”
Stacy is intrigued by the thought of resurrecting his career and wanted to go the NFL route first but says Jones caught his attention early after working out at Vanderbilt’s pro day earlier in the spring, “Coach Jones kept blowing my phone up week in and week out” Stacey says with a chuckle.
“We have a lot of Alabama connections and so he got me out here to a workout and I was signed the next week. I’m so grateful for coach Jones because he gave me an opportunity to play football again.”
Stacy had retired after suffering an ankle injury prior to the 2016 season and knew he wanted to come back last year but had to take care of some “personal demons” first.
It’s a very heart-warming story with real potential for a happy ending.
But again, where does Jerome Messam fit into this puzzle?
Might be Too Expensive for a Backup
With Zach Collaros signed to be the starting quarterback, one can only assume the thought of Saskatchewan’s first ever ‘Zach to Zac’ backfield won’t tug at any heart-strings for Jerome.
Messam still wants to start on a Roughrider team he notices has more ‘athletes’ and better depth than the Saskatchewan roster he was traded away from in 2015. He knows his six-figure salary is a lot of salary cap room for any CFL team to swallow for a backup or even someone splitting carries with another starter.
But he doesn’t plan on getting caught up in speculation over the team’s direction at running back and insists at age 33 (most running backs don’t produce much past 30), he can still do the job, “I just think about how the body feels. The mind controls the body. I go out there and be mentally tough. Everybody is sore and everybody is aching and so we’re all going through the same thing. I’ve got to fight through it like everybody else.”
Jerome Messam has to fight through all of that and then some if he plans to start or even make it at all with the Riders in 2018.