REGINA -- A potential Grey Cup preview is set to unfold on Saturday night in Regina, as the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders square off under the bright lights of Mosaic Stadium.
Yet while both teams are division leaders and about to play at the site of this year’s 101st Grey Cup, they each have more pressing concerns than what’ll be happening over two months from now.
As the Argos continue to adjust to life without starting quarterback Ricky Ray and last year’s Most Outstanding Player Chad Owens, the Roughriders face concerns over what’s gone on both off the field and on it.
Management faced the difficult decision this week of whether to keep Dwight Anderson and Taj Smith in the lineup, after the veteran starters were involved in an incident off the field
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Added to the fact they must now move forward without linebacker Rey Williams, who was dealt a season-ending injury last weekend, as well as without dynamic receiver Weston Dressler for this week, it’s easy to see why this could be a distracted football club ñ something the team leaders say simply can’t happen.
"Life goes hand-in-hand with football,” starting quarterback Darian Durant, one of the elder statesmen on the team, told Riderville.com.
"You’re gonna have some obstacles in life, you’re gonna have some obstacles with your losses on the football field and it’s all about bouncing back and learning from them and being strong-minded, and I think that’s what this team is.”
Reporters pointed out that the atmosphere in practice this week seemed quieter than usual, something Head Coach Corey Chamblin said has more to do with the team’s level of focus rather than the events that have taken place.
"They’ve been practising, they’ve been ready to go, I think we have a good focus there,” Chamblin told the team’s official website. Any time after a loss, we did lose to Winnipeg, I think those guys are focused.”
"No one likes to get their butts kicked, we’re competitors so those guys are ready to get into the lineup and play again.”
Just a couple of weeks ago the Roughriders appeared to be on track to get to the Grey Cup game, which will be held in their own backyard in late November. But after a hot start, they’ve fallen back to earth a little bit of late, especially after last weekend’s loss in which Durant was held to just 129 yards and no touchdowns by a hungry Bomber defence.
While they’ll have plenty of motivation on Saturday as they return home for a primetime game against the defending Grey Cup champs, the Roughriders know they face an important test on the field.
"It’s been a tough week, it was a tough loss, it was tough losing Rey Williams, super tough losing Rey being our captain and our leader, and with the other off-field stuff it’s been tough,” said former Argo Ricky Foley, who won a Grey Cup with the Argos last November.
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» Roughriders pulled back down to earth
Having gone up against Zach Collaros throughout most of last season in practice, Foley knows what to expect from the Double Blue offence as the young pivot replaces the injured Ray.
"A lot of misdirection, a lot of moving the pocket. He’s not just gonna sit back there like Ray does so we’re gonna have to be gap-conscious up front and we’ll have to make a lot of hustle plays because they’re gonna do a lot of screens and moving stuff and we’ll just have to be hustling all day,” said Foley.
The veteran defensive end added that he thinks Collaros is on the right track to becoming a starting quarterback in the CFL, and poses a major threat to the Riders’ defence on Saturday.
"I knew Zach last year just watching him practise, you know he’s gonna be a great player,” said Foley.
"The thing about Zach is he’s a young guy so maybe it’s tough for him getting all his reads as quick as a guy like Ricky Ray would, but he’s got the mobility to make something happen after that."
"So even if he doesn’t get his reads he doesn’t have to force the ball into coverage, he can pull the ball down and make something happen with his legs and get the first down,” he continued.
"He’s a double-threat quarterback but we’re used to that playing in the CFL, so it’ll be a challenge but I think we’re up to it.”
As for how his team will bounce back from a difficult week both on and off the field for the Riders, Foley said that remains to be seen, but Saturday’s game will be a major indicator.
"There are only two ways to go with everything in life: you either get stronger from it or you crumble,” said Foley. We’ll see what kind of fortitude we have on this team, we’ll see what kind of leadership we have from the coaches down.”
"Basically it’s going to be lead by example’, the veteran guys out there, and it’s going to be interesting to see which way this team goes, up or down with all the adversity,” said Foley.
Chamblin, on the other hand, has no doubt how his team will respond on Saturday.
"The one thing I know about this team and about these guys, all of them that I have, they’re professional football players,” said the second-year head coach.
"This is what they do and this is how they feed their families, and when it’s game time they have to be ready to roll, that’s part of being who we are.”
The Argos haven’t faced the same kind of off-field drama, but know what it’s like to deal with injuries to their star players and important leaders.
The trio of Ray, Owens, and running back Chad Kackert were the glue that held the team together throughout last year’s Grey Cup run and this year’s hot start, and with all three out of the lineup in recent weeks the Argos have faced a sturdy test in their resiliency.
It’s a test Head Coach Scott Milanovich said the Argos have passed so far, especially after last week’s 37-30 come from behind win against the Montreal Alouettes on the road. The Als may have been missing key players just like the Argos, but this was one of the games circled on the calendar that the Boatmen had to win if they’re going to contend for the East title.
"I just felt like we needed a win no matter who we played this week,” Milanovich, once an offensive coordinator in Montreal, told Argonauts.ca. "Certainly we needed a little bit of momentum and this is a good football team that we’re playing.”
|The last time they met|
Thursday, July 11, 2011
Saskatchewan 39, Toronto 28
The Saskatchewan Roughriders continued their blazing start to the 2013 season, defeating the Toronto Argonauts 39-28 for their third-straight win...Read more.
"I don’t know that Montreal’s defence gets enough credit for how good they are, it wasn’t like Zach was playing against a team that didn’t have a good defence,” he continued. We know what we’re up against, and against Saskatchewan he’ll have to play well again.”
The Argos trailed 16-5 at the half and looked out of it, before Collaros led the team to a 23-point third quarter and the eventual win thanks to a late touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman. Milanovich said his quarterback inspired a big second half, which the team can build on heading into Saturday’s affair.
He just played well and kept fighting and didn’t get too frustrated when things weren’t going his way,” said Milanovich. I always know he’s going to compete and that’s not really an issue, it’s the mental toughness that comes with being in a game where things aren’t going well for a half and you fall behind and you’re on the road, and you have to hang in there and keep executing.”
"That’s what I was proud of with Zach and of the whole team really, they didn’t lose their composure, they didn’t lose their coach and they just kept trusting in what they’ve been taught, and finally the dam broke and he got hot and obviously we were able to win the game.”
While Ray and Owens continue to sit out, the team will welcome Kackert back to their offensive backfield, as the veteran runner in his second year starting at tailback has been cleared medically to play.
"I’ve had plenty of injuries and it’s always iffy the first time you go back, and you just hope you don’t have that one awkward hit doing what happened in the first place,” said Kackert. That is one obstacle but it’s one that can go away after just one play.”
The Argos will get one welcome addition to their lineup for sure, as import kicker Swayze Waters is set to return from the nine-game injured list after sitting out since being injured in the season opener against the Tiger-Cats.
Kickoff is at 9:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Riderville.com/Argonauts.ca