Rob Vanstone: Long-distance observations on Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros, shown during a rookie-camp session Friday at Mosaic Stadium, raised a valid point during Monday's training-camp session with the media. Troy Fleece / Regina Leader-Post

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NOT ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR SASKATOON — With all due sheepishness, we unashamedly present the finest non-training-camp coverage that can be found anywhere on 1900-block Park Street.

Here at Leader-Post World Headquarters, this pilfering pundit prides himself on reading every one of our man Murray McCormick’s dispatches from the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ spring sessions at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.

Every second of every radio broadcast is also heard and absorbed.

Television sportscasts are monitored, with the assistance of a state-of-the-art Beta VCR. We simply eject the Jane Fonda workout video, insert a blank tape, and marvel at the latest in technology.

All of this being done, the following observations have been made and duly recorded …

YAKKING WITH ZACH

One of the best training-camp quotes — granted, it is early in the proceedings — was uttered by quarterback Zach Collaros, who on Monday discussed the head injuries he sustained in 2018.

“I don’t think I could have prevented either concussion last year,” Collaros said. “Other than that, I don’t think that I took too many bad (hits). The first concussion was in a pre-season game and I was in there in the third quarter for whatever reason. The other one was just unfortunate.”

That quote was noteworthy for two reasons: (1) Collaros, conventionally a dispenser of cliches, is among the unlikeliest candidates to say anything that could even be remotely interpreted as eye-popping; (2) The “I was in there in the third quarter for whatever reason” part was absolute gold, and so true.

On June 8, the Roughriders played host to the Calgary Stampeders in the pre-season finale for both teams.

Inexplicably, and indefensibly, Saskatchewan’s best hope at quarterback was being deployed in the third quarter. He had also played in the first quarter, and early in the second frame, before Brandon Bridge took over.

After halftime, then-head coach Chris Jones went back to Collaros. On his final play, he was crunched by Folarin Orimolade, who forced a fumble.

At the time, the Roughriders didn’t even see fit to ensure that Collaros was protected by five starting-calibre offensive linemen. One guard spot was occupied by Emmanuel Adusei, who “had three or four busts in a row,” Jones noted.

As it turned out, Collaros suffered a concussion — one that he did not disclose to the coaches or the training staff at the time — and the condition was aggravated in Week 2 of the regular season. He did not return until the Roughriders’ seventh game.

After Collaros was rocked in the pre-season contest, Jones turned to quarterbacks David Watford and B.J. Daniels. That duo erupted for three interceptions in mop-up duty.

“You could have blocked better than what we blocked in the third quarter,” Jones said in response to a reporter’s question following the Roughriders’ 39-12 loss. “I didn’t want to risk our A-group and B-group quarterbacks going out there. The other guys have a little bit more mobility so I put them in there. That way if it breaks down, they can move.’’

The problem is, Jones DID take that risk. Collaros was in the game midway through the third quarter — “for whatever reason,” as the Roughriders’ No. 17 put it so perfectly on Monday.

POSTING INFORMATION

The receiving corps, such an ordinary lot in 2018, has been the talk of this year’s training camp.

A newcomer, Paul McRoberts, made four dazzling grabs on Monday. Sophomore slotback Kyran Moore was also impressive, especially while shake-and-baking veteran Crezdon Butler on a double move.

And all of this means … uh, what, exactly?

As the passes are being delivered, nobody is trying to behead the quarterback. His sightlines are unimpeded. Some of the matchups are one-on-ones that take place on an expansive field.

It stands to reason, then, that the quarterback and receiver enjoy a distinct advantage.

That said, there is excitement about the possibilities. After watching the Roughriders eke out a meagre 11 touchdown passes last season, fans and media types are clamouring for something different than the smelling salts that had to be administered in 2018.

An over-the-top completion, even in individual drills, is a sight for sore eyes.

My antennae perked up Monday when the CKRM tandem of Derek Taylor and Luc Mullinder repeatedly referred to receivers running (BREAKING NEWS ALERT!) post patterns.

Honestly, how many times did the 2018 Roughriders complete (or even aim) a pass to someone who was running a post pattern?

If a receiver did run a post pattern, was he fined for deviating from the mandatory hitch screen?

Uh oh … flashbacks …

Remember the time when the closest human being to one ill-advised hitch-screen pass just happened to be B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono?

Anyway, it is refreshing to hear any discussion of a post pattern.

In fact, the mere disclosure that the Roughriders do have such a route in the playbook — which, presumably, is thicker than last year’s pamphlet-like document — should qualify Messrs. Taylor and Mullinder for an award of some description and prestige.

Their words offer a modicum of hope that the Roughriders will not reprise the grunt-and-punt approach of 2018.

RUNNING BACKS TO SASKATOON

Could the Roughriders actually use their running backs in imaginative fashion?

Running backs coach Kent Maugeri hinted at such a welcome development while in conversation with CTV’s Pat McKay.

McKay did a story on running backs William Powell and Marcus Thigpen — the latter of whom was woefully underutilized last season.

“It’s a matchup nightmare, whichever one of them is out on that field … so good luck,” Maugeri said. “And don’t tell anybody, but we may have both of them out there, too.”

Powell, a prized free-agent signee, rushed for 1,362 yards in 16 games with the Ottawa Redblacks last season.

The speedy Thigpen averaged 8.5 yards per carry last season. That’s the good news.

The bad news: He carried the ball only 48 times.

Two of those carries produced long-distance touchdowns — of 82 and 80 yards.

The 80-yarder, mind you, was Thigpen’s only rush during Saskatchewan’s 31-20 victory over the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 19.

The philosophy seemed to be “if at first you succeed, hit the showers.”

Granted, Tre Mason was the featured running back last season. And Thigpen is now 33, so some (ugh) load management is warranted.

At times, though, it seemed that only the Roughriders could stop Thigpen. Maybe, just maybe, that is changing.

FOOTBALL DIGEST

First-year head coach Craig Dickenson is, as expected, a tonic during media scrums.

He engages with reporters, often addressing them by name, and offers interesting answers. Moreover, a sense of humour is evident.

When asked about conducting post-practise sessions with the media — something he rarely had to do when he was strictly the special-teams co-ordinator — he responded: “This is different, for sure. Usually, I’m already two hamburgers in by now at the meal place.”

How’s that for a meaty quote?!

Rider Rumblings 51: Who’s looking good at training camp. Check out the Rider Rumblings podcast wherever you get your podcasts

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

 

 

 

 

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