Saturday is the time to shine for the Saskatchewan Roughirders' rookies.
With Sunday’s cut down day looming and the tradition of playing more veterans in the second exhibition game, the Riders pre-season premiere may be it for many of the first year players.
The other dilemma facing the first-year crop of Riders is the fact there are so many new comers to the CFL that there will be few snaps to go around for a roster of over 80.
The hype around receiver Ryan Smith continues to grow after a strong mini-camp in Florida and an impressive first two weeks of training camp.
Smith now has to show the coaches he can carry the strong practices over to game time.
“I’m really excited just to get into that game action again and put the pads and jerseys on again, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
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Another receiver who has had a decent start to training camp is Brett Swain. Unlike Smith, Swain has been through this process before. The former Green Bay Packer knows what it takes to enter the new world of professional football and to make the team.
For Swain, it’s all about showing that he can make the transition from the four-down game to the three-down game, that includes timing up the snap count with his waggle.
“We’re still working on it. It’s definitely a process of learning. I’m still working on the waggle, still working on the timing. There is still a lot of different snap counts. There are a lot of different plays that incorporate the waggle and plays that do not incorporate the waggle.”
While Swain and Ryan Smith are battling for jobs in the receiving corps, they’ve become a solid pair off the field.
“We room next to each other. Just with the playbook we help each other with that. We come together and go over plays and right them down on pieces of paper and stuff like that,” explains Smith.
The other member of the team that has an invested interest in the performance of these new CFL receivers is the man throwing them the ball, Darian Durant.
Durant has been working not only on his own game, but with his intimate knowledge, he’s planted himself next to Smith to help he and other receivers get acclimatized to Offensive Coordinator George Cortez’ system.
“Darian has been a really big time helper with my routes, and timing stuff up and what not,” says Smith.
While new comers to the CFL are battling it out for starting spots on the offensive side of the ball, the Riders have been able to solidify holes on the defensive side of the ball with backups from last year like linebacker Sam Hurl, Mortty Ivy, and Brian Peters or free agents like Brandon Isaac and Shomari Williams.
That just makes it harder for the rookies to stick with the Riders with only back-up or practice roster spots to win.
The defensive back field is loaded with new talent and while it may be a challenge for them to surpass the steady veterans in front of them, they will make it a challenge for Head Coach Corey Chamblin to decide who stays and who goes.
“It’s going to be real tough. I’m going through the roster now, going back and forth on how we’re going to do this, especially with some of things that may change with the rosters and different things. The best guys of course will win the positions to play and then there are those extra (designated import) spots and maybe one or two of the guys grab those.”
Bottom line from the head coach, no matter how many reps you get on Saturday, you better make the most of it.
Exactly what Marshay Green is hoping to do and not just in one spot but several, “I’ve learned the more you can do the more valuable you become to the team, so I’m just trying to do what the coaches ask me to do.”
One spot where jobs can be available for newcomers to the CFL is always special teams and that may be where the biggest impact can be made for the first year Riders.
The common theme for Green and Smith, is their ability to return. And when the coach wants to see how much you can do, they hope to show that part of their game off against Ottawa.
“Honestly, that’s my bread and butter,” described Green.
“If the coaches allow me to play punt return then I’ll take full advantage of it.”
Smith is also hoping to show the ability to give the team good field position on returns.
“I’m just trying to help this team out as much as possible.” and it’s attitudes like that which will be hard to ignore on the first cut-down day, this Sunday.
Jamie Nye lives and breathes the CFL and is the host of 'The Green Zone' on 980 CJME in Regina and 650 CKOM in Saskatoon. You can find his podcasts and blogs at greenzonefootball.com and follow him on twitter @jamienye