When a team wins just five games in a season, many questions are asked. One question Saskatchewan Roughriders fans had after a dismal 2011 was whether or not the presence of Canadian wideout Rob Bagg or import defensive lineman Brent Hawkins would have helped.
Both men, while members of the team, did not play a down last season due to injury as Bagg was rehabbing from a knee injury suffered late in the 2010 campaign while Hawkins was battling a shoulder injury that he sustained during training camp.
“I feel great!” Hawkins proclaimed. “I don’t have any worries and I feel as if I’m probably in the best shape of my career. I’m ready to go and hopefully be a part of a championship season.”
The Riders have been without impact defensive ends since John Chick and Stevie Baggs left a few seasons ago and it was hoped Hawkins could fill the void. He made people take notice in 2010 when he recorded three sacks in 13 games, but he was unable to make any progress on that season because of the shoulder injury. The 28-year-old comes back to camp this year knowing he has to earn a starting position, but not feeling the pressure of perhaps having to be an impact guy.
“I don’t feel a lot of pressure,” Hawkins said. “The coaches know what I can do and I showed that to them during mini-camp. Defensive line coach Mike Walker came up to me and said he thought I might be a little rusty, but I seem to be as fast as I always was. That was a great confidence boost for me as it gives me a little extra incentive.”
As for Bagg, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a game against Calgary and re-injured it just before training camp while working out, which meant the speedy receiver from Queens was a non-factor in 2011. Bagg could be seen at Mosaic Stadium late last year working hard to get back to 100 percent. Like Hawkins, he says he is at 100 percent and is ready to contribute in 2012.
“It’s fun to be back out here,” Bagg said after day 1 of training camp. “I’m not taking reps for granted anymore. I have trained hard for the last 12 months and while I don’t think about the knee and whether or not it’s stronger, I feel I am ready to go.”
Both Bagg and Hawkins could do nothing to help the on-field performance last year, but Bagg says the season certainly had its toll on him as well.
“When you have so many close friends on the team and you are a part of this team and can’t do anything, you take it hard.” Bagg said. “I knew the guys were working hard and doing what they could to win, but things didn’t go our way. We had some good football players though and a lot of those guys are back intending to turn those losses into wins.”
Head Coach Corey Chamblin spent his first day of camp doing his best to visit every position. When asked about Bagg and Hawkins and whether or not any special attention has to be paid to two vets looking to reclaim their starting positions, the reply was simply this.
“I’ve seen both of them before and I’m very aware of what they can do. When it comes to their getting their starting jobs back, it’s an open competition, but those two guys really know how to rehab and get themselves going. I’m not worried about those two. I am impressed with how they have come back.”
If Bagg and Hawkins can be the players they were before getting injured, it is safe to say this Riders team will be a lot better than the team that they were not a part of last season.