POST-SEA­SON POS­SI­BIL­ITY

Rid­ers can end play­off drought

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - MUR­RAY MCCORMICK mm­c­cormick@post­media.com

The Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers have two schools of thought about the strong pos­si­bil­ity of snap­ping their two-year play­off drought.

The Rid­ers are ex­cited and re­lieved to know a vic­tory over the vis­it­ing Ottawa Red­blacks Fri­day and a B.C. Lions loss to the host Win­nipeg Blue Bombers Satur­day would clinch at least a cross­over play­off berth into the CFL’s East Di­vi­sion.

Saskatchewan’s play­ers are also aware they have plenty of work to do if they are go­ing to be suc­cess­ful in the post-sea­son.

“It feels great be­cause it has been a long time around here and things haven’t been go­ing very well and we haven’t been in the play­offs,” Rid­ers cen­tre Bren­don LaBatte said.

“To be in a po­si­tion where we con­trol our own destiny with four games to go is a great feel­ing. I feel like we’ve earned it be­cause we have worked hard this year. When it comes down to ex­e­cu­tion, we still have a lot of things to clean up in the next four weeks.”

The Rid­ers haven’t made the play­offs since 2014, when they fin­ished third in the West with a 10-8 record be­fore los­ing 18-10 to the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos in the di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal. Saskatchewan fin­ished 3-15 in 2015 and 5-13 in 2016.

Dur­ing that two-year low, quar­ter­back Dar­ian Du­rant was side­lined for most of the 2015 sea­son with a rup­tured Achilles ten­don. Head coach Corey Cham­blin and gen­eral man­ager Bren­dan Ta­man were both fired af­ter the Rid­ers opened the 2015 sea­son with nine con­sec­u­tive losses.

In the off-sea­son, the Rid­ers’ ex­ec­u­tive filled the va­can­cies by hir­ing Chris Jones as vice-pres­i­dent of foot­ball op­er­a­tions, head coach and gen­eral man­ager.

Some of the moves Jones made were re­leas­ing slot­back We­ston Dressler and de­fen­sive end John Chick for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. The de­ci­sions were un­pop­u­lar, to say the least, with Rider Na­tion.

The Rid­ers opened the 2016 sea­son by los­ing 10 of their first 11 games. There were also ros­ter vi­o­la­tions that led to fines. The Green and White missed the play­offs de­spite win­ning four of their fi­nal seven games.

The past off-sea­son was event­ful with Jones trad­ing Du­rant to the Mon­treal Alou­ettes for draft picks.

Once the 2017 sea­son kicked off, the Rid­ers lost four of their first six games. They have ral­lied and carry an 8-6 record into Fri­day’s game against the Red­blacks (6-9-1).

“This is great, es­pe­cially af­ter what we went through last sea­son,” said Rid­ers of­fen­sive tackle Thad­deus Cole­man. “We went through some tough times last year and then we had to watch other teams move on in the play­offs.”

Jones was in full re­build mode with the 2016 Rid­ers af­ter in­her­it­ing a 3-15 team. This year has been more about plug­ging holes and be­ing se­lec­tive in free agency.

The strat­egy paid off with the free-agent sign­ings of quar­ter­back Kevin Glenn, slot­back Bakari Grant, of­fen­sive line­man Derek Den­nis, de­fen­sive back Jovon John­son, run­ning backs Cameron Marshall and Kienan LaFrance, and wide re­ceiver Duron Carter, along with the ac­qui­si­tion of of­fen­sive line­man Peter Dyakowski via a trade with the Toronto Arg­onauts.

“Those are signs of a smart gen­eral man­ager,” Cole­man said. “You don’t want to start a whole team over be­cause there are al­ready build­ing blocks in place that you al­ready have. You want to fill holes with guys that you ac­tu­ally need.”

The Rid­ers are a dif­fer­ent team than they were a year ago.

“Last year, we had a young team and prob­a­bly had only six guys over 26 and a lot of rook­ies,” Cole­man said. “The guys have grown up. We’ve added some key vet­eran play­ers. When ev­ery­one comes to­gether like that, it makes the job a lot eas­ier.”

To be in a po­si­tion where we con­trol our own destiny with four games to go is a great feel­ing.

TROY FLEECE

Wil­lie Jef­fer­son, left, A.C. Leonard and the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers have flexed their mus­cles this sea­son and are on the verge of snap­ping a two-year play­off drought.

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