Craig Dickenson, the new head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders says getting out and meeting fans is important.
“I feel it’s an honour and a privilege … to meet Rider Nation,” he told those attending Football Night in Saskatchewan Saturday in Yorkton.
Dickenson said the fervour of Saskatchewan fans, and their love of the Roughriders reminds him a lot of one of the most fabled football franchises in the US.
“It’s very similar to coaching for the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “Rider Nation is real.”
As for the Roughriders as a team, Dickenson said they have “the best program, best organization, in the CFL.”
Dickenson then turned his comments to the season ahead, starting with a look at the team’s selections in the recent CFL draft.
With their first pick Saskatchewan took Justin McInnis a wide receiver out of Arkansas State. He was the sixth overall selection, then took Brayden Lenius another receiver, this one out of New Mexico in the second round, 15th overall.
“Both of them are big dudes,” said Dickenson. “Both guys have body types that can go and play right away.”
Dickenson said a key to the two selections was size, since discussions with last season’s quarterbacks suggested they needed bigger targets.
“They felt like our receivers were too small,” he said, adding bigger receivers simply give quarterbacks a better target.
“So we’re trying to get bigger, longer, with our receiving targets,” he said.
The dark horse selection for the draft was Chris Judge a linebacker who played at California Polytechnic. He was taken in the eighth round, 71st overall.
Dickenson said Judge “hasn’t played football in five years,” but in college the now 28-year-old was outstanding.
Of more immediate interest is the position of quarterback which will have a mix of veteran and new faces competing for spots.
Zach Collaros returns as the expected starter, and Dickenson said he is as healthy as any player, and ready for the season.
“He’s at no more risk of a concussion than anyone else in the league,” assured the coach of the oft injured pivot.
But there are some new faces chasing Collaros including free agent signing Isaac Harker.
Harker (6’0 – 195) joins the Riders after spending last season at the Colorado School of Mines. In 12 collegiate games for the Orediggers, the 23-year-old completed 280 of 421 pass attempts (66.5 percent) for 3,858 yards. His 39 touchdown passes led all NCAA Division II quarterbacks.
Dickenson said Harker hits on the three key things they look for in a pivot.
First is the ability to deliver the ball accurately.
Secondly, a quarterback has “to process information quickly” to deal with the changes on the field, said Dickenson.
And, thirdly “can you extend the play with your feet?” he asked.
Dickenson then suggested Harker has “all three in spades.”
Back from last season is quarterback David Watford, and then there is newcomer Cody Fajardo.
Fajardo has been in the CFL a few seasons, but Dickenson said “he really hasn’t been given a shot,” which he will have with the ‘Riders.
Overall though, Dickenson is expecting the defence to be a key to the team’s success this season.
“Our defence is as good, if not better, than last year,” he said.
The ‘Riders did lose AC Leonard from last season to free agency, but added defensive end Willie Jefferson.
“I feel like our defence will be as good as last year,” he reiterated.