July 1, 2024

MMQB: Early adversity hits the Roughriders

Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

I was really hoping Trevor Harris’s injury sustained in Saskatchewan’s Week 3 home opener was going to be a minor one.

Unfortunately, though, the veteran quarterback is headed to the six-game injured list with what’s being deemed a moderate MCL sprain. For a second straight season the Riders will be without their No. 1 quarterback for a significant stretch of time due to a lower body injury.

The most unfortunate part is seeing Harris on the shelf knowing how well he’d returned to action. After sustaining a broken leg in mid-July last year, Harris was forced to miss the remainder of the season, his first with the Riders. Revitalized in 2024, though, Harris had thrown for 872 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in helping Saskatchewan to a strong 3-0 start.

And now the Roughriders have to adapt and overcome.

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Thrust into the spotlight is 27-year-old Shea Patterson, who signed in Regina prior to last season and saw very limited action. But when the Riders opted to move on from Jake Dolegala in the off-season and release Mason Fine at the end of training camp, Patterson became the next man up if the situation arose.

Now opportunity knocks.

Patterson comes with impressive credentials. He’s played in high pressure situations, having spent two years at Ole Miss before transferring to Michigan for his final two years of college. Playing for a pair of big time NCAA programs and being one of the latter’s all-time leading passers is decent preparation for starting in the pressure cooker that is Saskatchewan.

I’m curious to see how Patterson performs, but it’s going to be difficult to gauge based solely off his limited CFL reps. Patterson saw time as Montreal’s short yardage quarterback in 2021 and threw all of six passes for 32 yards last season with the Riders. While Patterson has had time to familiarize himself with the CFL game, starting at this level is a different animal.

Saskatchewan’s addition of AJ Ouellette and Jermarcus Hardrick over the winter have the chance to really pay dividends now, however. With Ouellette coming off his first 1,000-yard season in 2023, the Riders will need to lean on him more over the next few weeks as Patterson gets his legs under him.

In three games with his new team, Ouellette has run for 162 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries. But the bruising runner is capable of significantly more and I’m curious if he’s given even more opportunity to show that while Harris is on the shelf.

Then there’s Hardrick and Saskatchewan’s offensive line. Protection is going to be that much more important with a new quarterback under centre, which is an area the Roughriders have focused on over the last couple seasons. Visually, Harris has looked to have had more time to pass this season. Statistically, Saskatchewan’s 2.67 sacks allowed per game has improved slightly from last season.

The Riders have done a lot of nice things while getting off to this 3-0 start under new head coach Corey Mace. It’s a nice cushion to have as the team faces real adversity in the early going.

Instant impacts

Happy Canada Day!

We’re now through the first month of the regular season and we’ve already seen some of the biggest free agent acquisitions make their mark with their new teams. Here are three that have really stood out from this vantage point.

Demerio Houston, Calgary Stampeders

Last year’s interceptions leader is off to a heck of a start for the 2-1 Stamps. Houston has already recorded his first two interceptions in Red and White and has paired that with 16 defensive tackles, including a pair of seven-tackle outings. Any worry that Houston was a product of Winnipeg’s system over the last few years have quickly been dispelled.

Houston’s addition, and his high level of play, have had a knock-on effect as well. Houston has started all three of Calgary’s games at boundary cornerback, which has allowed the Stamps to shift veteran Tre Roberson to the field corner spot. Having a pair of All-Star calibre players bookending the backfield has been a nice addition to this defence.

Ka’Deem Carey, Toronto Argonauts

Carey joined the Argos with something to prove and so far, so good. After losing Ouellette in free agency, Toronto quickly pounced and added the league’s leading rusher in 2022. While last season was plagued by injuries for Carey, there was lots to suggest he still had plenty left in the tank.

As part of a 2-1 start for the Argonauts, Carey has racked up a league-leading 230 rushing yards to go along with an impressive average of 5.2 yards-per-carry. When you factor in his 83 receiving yards, Carey has shown multiple signs of being the guy from two years ago when he ran for 1,088 yards.

Adarius Pickett, Ottawa REDBLACKS

I don’t think anyone is surprised to see Pickett jump right into action with Ottawa as if he’s been there for years, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The league’s premier SAM linebacker has been an instant impact maker with the REDBLACKS as part of their promising 2-1 start.

After a breakout season with Toronto in 2023, Pickett has already registered 15 defensive tackles and an interception with his new team. And with Pickett’s mix of punishing tackling to go along with his ability to drop into coverage, Ottawa is going to keep using him in every situation they can.

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