Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Mini-camp stars may affect how Riders handle draft


VERO BEACH, FLA. What’s next for the Saskatchew­an Roughrider­s?

The completion of the threeday mini-camp at Historic Dodgertown was another step toward the main training camp, which begins May 28 at the University of Saskatchew­an.

The next major event is the CFL draft on May 7. A total of 71 national prospects from U Sports (formerly the CIS) and the NCAA are to be selected in the nine-team draft.

The Riders are in a prime position with nine selections in the draft, including the second overall pick. But the recently completed mini-camp may affect how the Riders approach the draft, even though there were only three Canadians in attendance.

Offensive lineman Dillon Guy, linebacker Alexandre Gagne and receiver Mitchell Baines may have changed some of the team’s thoughts regarding the draft.

Guy could address question marks at guard and centre after a strong performanc­e in Florida. He fared well after missing the entire 2016 CFL season while recovering from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee.

Guy was invited to mini-camp to test his knee. Due to a shortage of offensive linemen at the camp, he was involved in 274 reps on the first day.

“I played with fire because I didn’t bring down the knee brace,” Guy said.

“It felt good and I felt great moving. There was a little rust after missing a year. Getting the one-onone reps were very key and there’s a lot of learning ahead.’’

Guy’s surviving mini-camp bodes well for the Riders’ offensive line depth. Questions surround the guard position with the retirement of Chris Best and the uncertaint­y of Brendon LaBatte’s health heading into the 2017 season. Guy could provide insurance at the guard position.

He also spent time working at centre, which only improves the depth behind starter Dan Clark. Even though Guy was injured, he spent the 2016 season absorbing all the informatio­n he could from Clark, Best and LaBatte.

Chris Jones, the Riders’ head coach and general manager, called Gagne “a pleasant surprise.”

Gagne attended a tryout camp on April 22 and then emerged from a play-in camp the following day to earn a spot at the mini-camp. Jones said that more than 100 prospects attended each of the pre-mini-camp events.

Gagne carried his momentum into mini-camp and caught the eye of the coaches with his understand­ing of defensive schemes, his hustle on the field and his longsnappi­ng skills.

All of those attributes could help the Riders. Gagne could be a backup at middle linebacker, where the Riders are going with Canadian Henoc Muamba. Gagne could help out as a special-teams player and long-snapper. The Riders went through four longsnappe­rs during the 2016 season due to injury.

“It’s very odd to find that level of skill (as a long-snapper),’’ Jones said.

“He has perfect touch and perfect spirals on the short snaps. He’s calling out the defences and what the checks are. He could be a twoor three-teamer and could be your backup snapper, no problem.”

Baines also had a strong camp, something the coaches could take into considerat­ion as the draft looms.

“Having guys who look like they can compete allows you to do some things in the later rounds, where you can take the best player available and not be stuck to just one position,” Jones said.

The Riders are looking to bolster their defensive backfield, which was rocked by the release of defensive halfback Justin Cox. The 2016 Riders rookie-of-the-year nominee led the team with four intercepti­ons.

He was recently released after being charged with assault causing bodily harm during an alleged domestic violence incident.

The position Cox had occupied will be wide open during training camp and there may be some prospects stepping up from the mini-camp.

Zavian Bingham stood out while leading all defensive backs at the mini-camp with four picks.

Erick Dargan, another strong performer, could play defensive back or strong-side linebacker. He was among the best coverage players in the mini-camp.

Now, on to training camp ...

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Dillon Guy

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