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