January 27, 2023

Nye: How to improve the Riders offensive line

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

The Saskatchewan Roughriders need to decide, and soon, what to do at quarterback. There is no question the team is in a tight spot to get this right to turn the franchise back around.

However, it doesn’t matter if they clone Doug Flutie to be their next QB. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, the Roughriders quarterback won’t be the only ones sacked in 2023.

So what should we expect from the Riders in free agency on the offensive line this season? It should be more than we saw last year when we were saying the offensive line was a priority in Saskatchewan.

They signed Na’Ty Rogers.

Let’s just say Saskatchewan is expecting a much bigger splash this season to improve the offensive line.

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Of course, there was a lack of offensive linemen that actually made it to free agency last year as teams prioritized signing their best offensive linemen to new contracts.

That didn’t stop the Ottawa REDBLACKS from locking on to Ucambre Williams, Hunter Steward and Darius Ciraco in free agency to try and improve their offensive line.

Did they improve?

Well, Ottawa went from worst in the league at protecting the quarterback to allowing the third fewest sacks in 2022.

I know Ottawa’s success in the standings won’t leave many in R Nation overly impressed that they improved their offensive line play, but you have start somewhere and offensive line is never a bad place to start. The REDBLACKS invested in that area of the game and it paid off.

Now, just spending money in free agency isn’t the only way to improve your offensive line. Sometimes you have the right guys but maybe not the right scheme.

The BC Lions have also come a long way since leading the league in sacks allowed in 2019.

Their turn around has been different. If you look at the offensive line from 2019 and the one that played very well in 2022, you’ll notice not a lot has changed in terms of the personnel. Joel Figueroa, Peter Godber, Sukh Chungh, Philip Norman, David Knevel and Andrew Pierson were all there in 2019 and were there in 2022.

So, how did the Lions turn it around? One of the biggest things was scheme. Kelly Bates came in mid-way through the 2019 season and you started to see improvement right away.

Under Bates in the last two seasons, the BC Lions are consistently among the top in the league in protecting the quarterback and saw their run game improve with James Butler among the league leaders in 2022.

You can see that there is no one solution that can work.


Kelly Jeffrey, the Roughriders new offensive coordinator and last year’s running backs coach, feels the players they already have in Saskatchewan can get the job done within his system.

There is also the growth factor of young offensive lineman like Logan Ferland and Logan Bandy. The Roughriders are hoping Western offensive lineman Zach Fry comes in after another All-Star season at tackle with the Mustangs. Fry was the Riders’ second round pick in 2022.

The team felt ‘another year together’ mentality was going to work going from 2021 to 2022.

If my job depended on it, I’d be hesitant to not learn from that mistake.

We’re already seeing the Roughriders bring in American tackles to improve their play against the CFL’s top pass rushers. They didn’t sign young guys either. Jerald Hawkins and Jeremiah Poutasi are expected to come in and challenge to play right away. Poutasi was a third round pick in the NFL Draft and has several games under his belt. Hawkins has jumped around after being a fourth round pick in the NFL.

Of course, that is the cheaper way to go but the Riders could go out and pick up CFL veterans at tackle if Derek Dennis and Joel Figueroa hit the open market in a few weeks.

There are also some intriguing names that are pending free agents on the interior of the offensive line like Darius Ciraco, Sukh Chungh, Justin Lawrence, Michael Couture and Peter Godber.

And then there is the CFL Draft. The Roughriders will pick third and 11th and, as always, there won’t be a lack of talented young Canadian offensive linemen to choose from at those positions.

I often reference how the Riders built that dominant offensive line that won it all in 2013 and they did it with a mix of everything. George Cortez’ offence had a brilliant scheme. They signed Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard in free agency the year previous. A trade brought in an unknown tackle in Xavier Fulton who turned out to be an exceptional. They drafted Ben Heenan first overall in 2012 as his career flourished. Veteran Chris Best was the mainstay from years previous and they also had this young junior kid who was tough as nails and his love of the game was infectious in Dan Clark.

Speaking of Clark, when you re-build an offensive line, you do have to make tough decisions on great people and we’re still waiting to see what happens with the long-time local product.

But after having a similar group from 2021 regress in 2022, you know why Rider Nation is yearning to see a completely re-tooled offensive line.

I’m certain the quarterback will be too; whoever that is.

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