COL­UMN

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - ROB VANSTONE rvan­stone@lead­er­post.com Twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

Brett Smith con­tin­ues to im­press Rider Na­tion, writes Rob Vanstone.

Welcome to the weekly Brett Smith col­umn. Ev­i­dently, I am be­com­ing a word-Smith. And why not? The 23-year-old quar­ter­back is the pri­mary rea­son to re­main keenly in­ter­ested in the 2015 Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers, who have erupted for six glo­ri­ous moral vic­to­ries in eight ap­pear­ances to this point in the CFL sea­son.

De­spite the Riders’ 0-8 record, there is ev­ery­thing to like about Smith, who has started the past three games due to in­juries to vet­eran piv­ots Dar­ian Du­rant and Kevin Glenn.

Smith has yet to be a vic­to­ri­ous quar­ter­back at the pro­fes­sional level, but he car­ries him­self like a win­ner.

Even as a rookie, he ra­di­ates lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. His ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive, never-give-up at­ti­tude is some­thing that ev­ery­one should em­u­late or ap­pre­ci­ate.

No, this col­umn was not ghost­writ­ten by his agent.

In fact, this scrib­bler was skep­ti­cal at first. With Du­rant and Glenn on the shelf, the Roughrid­ers had no choice but to turn to Smith. The ex­pec­ta­tions here were mod­est.

Pre­dictably, Smith’s first start was not Plaza of Honor ma­te­rial. He was placed in a no-win sit­u­a­tion, fac­ing a car­niv­o­rous Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos de­fence on July 31 — af­ter one full day of prac­tice as the No. 1 quar­ter­back.

Ed­mon­ton 30, Saskatchewan 5. No sur­prise there.

The Roughrid­ers re­turned to ac­tion Aug. 8 against the host Toronto Arg­onauts, who won 30-26. In that game, Smith threw for 298 yards and two touch­downs. Two other scor­ing passes were ex­tin­guished by penal­ties.

Granted, Smith also un­furled a pick-six, but such is life for a rookie pivot.

Fol­low­ing a bye week, the Roughrid­ers played host to the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers on Satur­day and lost, 34-31.

The bright spot, once again, was Smith. He be­came the first Roughrider to throw three touch­down passes in a game since Du­rant ac­com­plished that feat in the 2013 Grey Cup.

The ma­jor blem­ish was an in­ter­cep­tion by Cal­gary’s Bran­don Smith, whose 32yard re­turn set up a Stam­ped­ers field goal.

Typ­i­cally, Brett Smith shrugged off ad­ver­sity and re­sponded by di­rect­ing a touch­down drive — the punc­tu­a­tion mark be­ing a 15-yard pay­off pitch to fel­low fresh­man Alex Car­roll.

On the Roughrid­ers’ next pos­ses­sion, Smith con­nected with Nic Dem­ski on a 72-yard pass-and-run be­fore find­ing We­ston Dressler in the end zone from three yards away.

Smith’s re­silience was rem­i­nis­cent of Aug. 8, when he served up an in­ter­cep­tion for a touch­down and quickly an­swered by throw­ing for six points.

So much for the pre­sump­tion that a young quar­ter­back would be rat­tled by a costly in­ter­cep­tion.

A mis­take seems to fuel Smith’s re­solve to an­swer back by en­gi­neer­ing a touch­down. You can see the fire burn­ing, even when the team’s pi­lot light is barely flickering when it comes to play­off pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Ten reg­u­lar-sea­son games re­main, and most of them are likely to be ex­per­i­men­tal in na­ture.

Hence the need to keep giv­ing Smith in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, while pro­vid­ing the fans with a com­pelling rea­son to fol­low the games.

But will head coach Corey Cham­blin stick with Smith?

Du­rant is lost for the sea­son with a rup­tured left Achilles ten­don, but Glenn is re­cov­er­ing from a torn right pec­toral mus­cle and is likely to be re­ac­ti­vated in Septem­ber. Then what?

“Right now, Brett’s the quar­ter­back,” Cham­blin said af­ter Satur­day’s game. “When we get to that point, we’re go­ing to al­ways try to win the game. If Kevin gives us the best op­por­tu­nity, then we’ll go with that, but right now Kevin’s not avail­able this week so it’ll still be Brett.”

Smith is to make his fourth start Sun­day against the host Ot­tawa Redblacks. If he re­mains healthy, he should be be­hind cen­tre for the du­ra­tion of the sea­son.

Glenn per­formed tremen­dously af­ter Du­rant was in­jured in the reg­u­lar-sea­son opener. Glenn was signed as an in­sur­ance pol­icy and his per­for­mance cer­tainly val­i­dated the Riders’ de­ci­sion to add him dur­ing the off-sea­son.

But Glenn, at 36, joined a team that was built to win now. At 0-8, the mind­set has to change. The fu­ture has to be ad­dressed, es­pe­cially in light of Du­rant’s age (he turns 34 on Aug. 19) and the sea­son-end­ing in­juries he suf­fered Sept. 7 (torn ten­don in right el­bow) and June 27 (Achilles ten­don).

Du­rant has de­clared that he will re­turn bet­ter than ever in 2016, and who can bet against him?

How­ever, the Riders have to pre­pare for the pos­si­bil­ity that Du­rant, twice in­jured, will not be able to reprise his 2013 form.

Even if Du­rant is 100 per cent next sea­son, the Roughrid­ers will still need to plan for the day when there is a chang­ing of the guard ... or the quar­ter­back, as it were.

This sea­son is lost, but there is still plenty to be gained — as long as the Riders stick with Smith.

To be con­tin­ued ...

MARK TAY­LOR/The Cana­dian Press files

Quar­ter­back Brett Smith is the lone bright spot in a dis­mal 2015 sea­son for the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers.

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