Riders can end playoff drought
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.
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.