REGINA -- My how the times have changed for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
At this time last year, the Riders were in the midst of a five game-losing streak, one that arrived after they jumped out to three-straight wins to start the season.
Fast-forward to the present, and the Roughriders are off to one of their best starts in franchise history, with their complacent ways officially a thing of the past.
“I just think that from top to bottom we are a better team. That starts from the front office right down to the last guy on the roster. We are a better team, we are well put together,” quarterback Darian Durant told Riderville.com.
“This year we are such a veteran squad, we are just used to dealing with adversity and used to being in tough situations. We are just a whole other team and it has worked out for the best,” he added.
Suffice to say, there have been plenty of positive changes in Riderville.
The free agents they brought in during the off-season have provided the veteran spark that was required during last season’s low-points, the offence has been firing on all cylinders, with Kory Sheets, Durant and Weston Dressler carrying the load, and the defence has been impeccable, with Tyron Brackenridge, John Chick and Rey Williams earning every bit of praise they’ve been receiving.
The transformation of the Riders has been underway since the 2011 season, when the team stumbled to a 5-13 record only one year removed from making it to their second-straight Grey Cup game.
During that season, the Riders got off to a 1-7 start and dismissed head coach Greg Marshall just prior to the annual Labour Day clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Green and White proceeded to sweep the Bombers in the Labour Day game and the ensuing Banjo Bowl, but their momentum tank emptied soon after, as they lost six of their following eight games.
Dressler, who was one of the lone bright spots offensively for the Riders that season, registering 1,061 yards and five touchdowns, says 2011 is a distant memory now.
“A lot has changed from our 2011 team and our team now. To be honest a lot of us that were here in 2011 kind of want to erase that season from our memory. Right now we have a lot of players that have been successful in this league and a lot of players who have been through good and bad times on teams,” he said.
“So we know what it takes as a team to keep things going in a positive direction. We know a 1-7 team in the CFL can win any week; this is a professional football league. There are guys that can make plays and there are athletes out there and you can’t take any week lightly.”
His quarterback couldn’t agree more.
“Just a couple of years ago, the roles were reversed in this same exact game but we took both of those games if I am not mistaken,” said Durant regarding the 2013 edition of the Blue Bombers.
“It can’t happen and that’s why you cannot overlook these guys, they are so hungry and they are going through a lot of change over there as well and those guys are coming out fighting for their jobs and they want to come out and play well.”
Helping them in their task to avoid complacency will be Rob Bagg, who was back on the field this week after suffering an ankle sprain in Week 8 against the Alouettes.
Bagg’s presence on the field was a welcomed one by his Riders teammates, who were happy the oft-injured receiver escaped a much more serious diagnosis unlike season’s past.
“It’s just a big relief for him and for us as an offence to have that weapon back. He brings a lot to the table on the field and off the field. He brings that energy level and makes guys around him better, so it’s good to have him back,” said Dressler.
“It’s great. I have a lot of respect and love for Robbie and what he means to our receiving corps and what he means to our team. He’s our sparkplug; he’s our guy, so it’s great to have him back.”
With a brace on his knee, Bagg wasn’t able to put an official time on when he’d be able to rejoin his teammates on the field.
“I can’t tell you what tomorrow is going to bring, but I did work out pretty hard while the guys were gone and ran some routes then and I didn’t have a blowout or anything. I am optimistic that when I go in there I will be able to keep it calm.”
“We will see how the week goes, but if it continues to get better and better I don’t see why I can’t (play Sunday).”