April 29, 2014

Pedersen: REDBLACKS excited to invade Riderville

Pawel Dwulit/CFL.ca

Am I the only one who can’t stop thinking about the pre-season game in Regina on Saturday, June 14 as the Saskatchewan Roughriders visit the Ottawa REDBLACKS?


No it’s true.  Read that over again.  You may have missed it in the avalanche of hockey coverage this winter, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders get to host two pre-season games in 2014 and one of them will actually be a home game for the expansion REDBLACKS, but it will be played at Mosaic Stadium.  

It will be Ottawa’s first-ever game, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be the road team.  

That’s why I can’t get my mind around the bedlam that will take place when the Green & White hit the field for the first time since capturing the Grey Cup in November over Henry Burris and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Oh yah, and it’s Burris who will lead the REDBLACKS out of the tunnel on this day!  I don’t think people have quite realized what’s going to go on that day and what a spectacle it’s going to be.

The Riders will be on the visitor’s bench meaning the legendary – and sometimes vulgar – east side fans won’t know what to do with themselves.  Will Gainer the Gopher engage in fisticuffs with rookie REDBLACKS mascot Big Joe at the 55-yard line?

One can only hope.

One guy who won’t be paying any attention to the potential “mascot fight” is REDBLACKS General Manager Marcel Desjardins, who has been keenly crafting this team and will be putting the finishing touches on the roster come June.  

For Desjardins, who cares about all the hoopla and festivities around the game?  They’ve got players to watch.  Although it will be fun for him too.

“That’s a big part of it,” Desjardins told CKRM radio.  “From a personnel and scouting standpoint it’s a huge day for us in terms of evaluating our players.  
“As we all know training camp is very short so these games have a tremendous amount of importance for everybody.  But it’s going to be a fun environment and we’re thankful the Roughriders were able to work it out for us to have the game there.  I think there’s a benefit to that organization as well to having the REDBLACKS there for their first game.  It’s going to be fun to see all the new REDBLACKS players running around and hopefully making a lot of plays.”

Like the 2014 Roughriders, the REDBLACKS have already congregated on the field once already and that was at their inaugural mini-camp in Richmond, Virginia in April.

“It went extremely well both organizationally plus once we actually hit the field,” Desjardins reported.  “It was very up-tempo and the talent, for the most part, was better than we thought it was going to be.  It was just overall a great experience for everybody.

“I don’t want to get into names but the players we collected in the expansion draft were the ones we had the highest expectations for and if there’s one guy who jumped out in my estimation, it was receiver Paris Jackson.  He hasn’t been able to contribute in B.C. to the extent he’d hoped the past few years so he came in here and was a leader on and off the field so that was very encouraging.  Obviously Henry Burris, and all of the quarterbacks we had there, did some good things.”

Right.  Burris.  Why is it that the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Spiro, Oklahoma product, who will be 39 once this game is played in June, are always inexplicably intertwined?  That’s one for the football Gods.  For now, it’s time to hype this game.

“We all know how enthusiastic Henry is at the best of times but he’s even more so now after seeing some of our acquisitions and throwing to them.  That’s very encouraging,” Desjardins continued.  

“Just the element of being in the meetings and with the coaches, learning who everybody is, all that is very important for the whole group but also the starting quarterback.”

However Burris is likely the only former Saskatchewan quarterback who will be on the field in that game.  

Kevin Glenn, who was selected by Ottawa in the first round of the December expansion draft, continues to be a hold-out.

“Kevin was one of five or six guys who weren’t at mini-camp for various reasons,” Desjardins explained.  “I spoke to Kevin a few weeks ago and he needs to understand we’re not playing hardball with him.  We’re doing what’s right for the Ottawa REDBLACKS.  

“When we drafted him that was the intent. Even after we signed Henry, our intent was to have them both plus Thomas Demarco.  It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t trade him if there were teams interested and the offers were fair but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.  Kevin doesn’t like where we’re at, but he understands it.”

And of course between now and that pre-season game is the matter of the 2014 CFL Canadian College Draft in which the REDBLACKS own the #1 overall pick.  

“Our intent the whole time would be to make that selection ourselves unless another team comes to us with an offer we can’t refuse but I’d say that’s pretty unlikely to happen,” Desjardins predicted.

So there’s a heck of a lot still to go before the Roughriders and REDBLACKS collide on the gridiron in Canada’s football shrine on June 14.

But these are the dog days of the CFL off-season, and somebody once told me it’s okay to dream.  

Even if it’s just daydreaming about green, white, red and black.