REGINA — It was a good Friday for Darian Durant.
That’s when Durant heard from head coach Ken Miller that he would be the starting quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders when their regular season opens Friday at Mosaic Stadium against the B.C. Lions.
“I was happy,” Durant said Friday at Mosaic Stadium. “You play the game to be the starter and it’s a dream come true. I feel like I’m ready and that’s the main thing.”
Considering the events that have transpired since the Riders closed out the 2008 season, the official announcement of Durant’s starting role could be considered anti-climatic. Two days after the Riders were beaten 33-12 by the Lions in the West Division semifinal, quarterback Michael Bishop was released. The Riders said one of the reasons for the quick release of Bishop was to let Durant know they had confidence in him for 2009.
Durant then re-signed with the Riders in January rather than test free agency. It was repeated that Durant was on top of the team’s depth chart. He was followed by Steven Jyles and Dalton Bell.
Things seemed to change during training camp. On June 17, Durant struggled against the Edmonton Eskimos in a 45-12 loss. On Tuesday, he came off the bench in the second quarter and looked more poised as the Riders were beaten 27-19 by the visiting Calgary Stampeders.
“I was getting antsy,” said Durant, who is heading into his fourth season with the Riders but first as the starting quarterback. “You hear a lot of people inside and outside the locker room saying that you are the guy but it doesn’t count until you hear the coach say the word. Once he did, I was happy.”
That good humour appeared to carry over to Friday’s workout because the 24-year-old looked sharp. His passes were crisp and he looked in control of the Riders’ first-team offence.
“This is like any other job, you’re going to have some good days and bad days,” said Durant. “Out of the 20 practices we had, I had two or three bad ones. I was really happy with that.”
That consistency and Durant’s experience were among the reasons Miller went with Durant over Jyles. Durant dressed for 15 games in 2008 and started four. He started three games when Marcus Crandell was sidelined with a hamstring injury and helped the Riders win five straight to open the season. Jyles dressed for 18 games but had just one start late in the season.
“Darian has shown before that he can command our offence,” said Paul LaPolice, the Riders’ offensive co-ordinator. “When things break down, he can use his feet. He showed that in (Tuesday’s game) where the protection broke down and it was actually (running back) Hugh Charles. Hugh came out of the backfield and Darian still found him. Those are the type of thing you want to see because it’s not always going to be perfect. When guys make plays like that, it can keep you on the field.”
Jyles pushed Durant in training camp, which contributed to some of the uncertainty surrounding the naming of a starting quarterback. Jyles, 26, has accepted the coach’s decision.
“I knew regardless of the outcome of training camp I would be starting or backing up,” said Jyles. “I knew there was a possibility of each role and I’m ready to accept the one I have. I will help Darian and I know he will help me.”
The Riders head into the season with three unproven quarterbacks. Durant has heard some of the concerns but doesn’t plan on letting them bother him.
“Stay tuned,” Durant said when asked about those concerns. “I don’t worry about what’s said outside of the organization. The coaches and the team have 100-per-cent confidence in me and as long as they do, we will just prove the naysayers wrong.”