After a very long off-season that consisted of everything from a wild free agency period, a tutorial in provincial labour laws thanks to the CBA negotiations and everything in between, football season is almost here. Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp battles will be the consuming the headlines in the weeks to come, below is a primer of who will be competing at what positions before week one. Under the watch of new head coach Craig Dickenson, there will be plenty of positions up for grabs.
Last season around this time, it was a battle for the starting quarterback position that was dominating headlines. Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge duked it out for the starting spot. Collaros ended up winning out but Bridge saw plenty of time in Collaros’ absence, including the West Semi-Final.
That brings us to 2019, after striking out on Bo Levi Mitchell, Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris, the Riders brought back veteran pivot, Collaros. But it didn’t stop there, Saskatchewan brought aboard journeyman quarterback Cody Fajardo to compete with David Watford. Many fans will remember Watford getting his reps during Chris Jones’ infamous quarterback carousel in Collaros’ absence.
Fajardo brings with him three years of CFL experience but just 414 yards passing to show for it. His rushing stats are what stand out, however, with 437 yards and 13 touchdowns to show for his work.
The receiver position has overgone an overhaul over the last number of seasons. Back in 2017, Duron Carter, Bakari Grant and Naaman Roosevelt led the way. All three eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards that season. The up and coming Caleb Holley also put up 600 yards of his own. Now, two years later, just Roosevelt remains.
In the CFL’s off-season depth chart series, second-year player Shaq Evans appears to have the boundary receiver position held-down. However, opposite of him there’s a battle of Nationals at the field receiver position between Cory Watson and Mitch Picton. Watson was added this past free agency to provide a veteran presence on what is otherwise a young receiving corps.
Watson appeared in 18 games last season for the BC Lions, hauling in 38 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Picton, on the other hand, has been biding his time on the Riders practice roster over the last two seasons. With Collaros firmly supplanted as the team’s starting pivot, both receivers should have equal opportunity to build rapport and prove their worth over camp and pre-season.
The Riders have an interesting mix of young and old on the offensive line, which may come as a benefit. Left tackle is presumed to be anchored by Takoby Cofield, though Terran Vaughn started the first seven games of the 2018 season. At left guard, Brendon LaBatte will enter as the starter. However, it certainly helps that the Riders signed Dakoda Shepley who can step in if needed. Injuries hit the Riders offensive line in waves last season. Dan Clark will hold down the center position.
The most intriguing battle in the trenches may come at right guard. 33-year-old Philip Blake and former 11th overall pick in 2017 Dariusz Bladek appear to be vying for the starting spot. Both are nationals. At right tackle, Thaddeus Coleman will likely hold his spot as he did in 2018.
Again, citing the CFL’s off-season depth chart, it appears Crezdon Butler will be moving outside after spending a few seasons at defensive halfback. The emergence of Nick Marshall last season at least ensures one of the two cornerback spots are solidified. However, Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post reported May 20th that slotback Kyran Moore was going up against Butler in various drills. Assuming Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy hold onto their spots, Butler with his experience would be a good fit opposite of Marshall.
Finally, at middle linebacker, an interesting battle is taking place. Let’s pretend for a second that Solomon Elimimian is pencilled in at the weak-side linebacker spot and Derrick Moncrieff is on the strong side. That leaves Cameron Judge and Sam Hurl to compete for the middle linebacker position. Hurl has the experience of having been in the league since 2012 and has also been a major contributor on special teams. Judge, on the other hand, is a former second-overall selection from the 2017 draft. He burst on to the scene last season with 41 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Both Hurl and Judge are nationals. This may be the most interesting battle at Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp.
The Last Word
Needless to say, there are plenty of more battles that are going to take place at the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp. Players mentioned above may be surprise cuts or perhaps traded. Others may emerge as dark horses that many did not see coming, such as Marshall last season. No matter how you look at it, competition brings out the best in others and the Riders have plenty to offer in 2019’s training camp. Rider fans will hope it all translates to on-field play come kick-off June 13th against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
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