September 3, 2011

Preview: Cates, Miller return against Bombers


REGINA — For a team that is the worst in the CFL, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are in very good spirits.

The Riders (1-7) are determined to get a fresh start Sunday, but they’ll have to do it against the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-1) who have not lost a road game this season.

The game will mark the return of Ken Miller as head coach and offensive coordinator following the dismissal two weeks ago of Greg Marshall and Doug Berry.

Miller’s return to the locker-room will give the Riders a morale boost, even though he cautioned it will take more than that to revive their season.

“It isn’t all emotion. You have to have execution,” Miller said on Saturday. “Teams play on emotion for only a short period of time. Then it comes down to the consistency of effort.”

Miller stressed the importance of playing “a penalty-free” game against the Blue Bombers, and seems confident that his offence will perform at a higher tempo.

“That’s one thing you can look for,” he said.

Miller said the Riders had a couple of “sensational” practices this week, and he expects quarterback Darian Durant to play “loose and free and with great confidence.”

The strength of Winnipeg’s defence is the front four, which generates enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks that the Bombers seldom have to resort to the blitz.

“Their front four is ferocious,” said Durant, who will attempt to nullify the pass rush by make more effective uses of his running back and occasionally taking off with the ball himself.

“I’m a guy with some mobility,” he said, “so let’s use it.”

Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown noted that a coaching change in mid-season is followed by a victory more often than not.

“That usually resonates and trickles down to the players,” he said. “But we’re more worried about what they’re going to be doing rather than how motivated they are.”

A year ago at this time, the Bombers came sputtering into the Labour Day weekend game with a record of 2-6 and left town at 2-7.

Asked what the difference has been, Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce cited the team’s maturity in general and the leadership factor in particular.

“We’re a year older than last year,” he said.

Like Brown, Pierce stressed the importance of not getting caught up in the hype, and focusing on the task at hand.

“We try to control what we do,” he said. “This is a chance to go out and play well again on the road.”

Paul LaPolice has experienced this heated rivalry from both sides as the offensive co-ordinator in Saskatchewan and now the head coach in Winnipeg.

“There’s a lot of great things about being part of the Blue Bomber organization and one of them is this,” LaPolice said about the away game.

“We’re expecting a hell of a game.”