Selnes: Rider quarterback has flaws to overcome

In last week’s column I had indicated I wanted to wait another week to see him start a third consecutive game before commenting on new quarterback Cody Fajardo. 

After two outstanding games, he had a terrible game against the Calgary Stampeders, who won July 6’s game 37-10.

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The game started badly on Saturday night for Fajardo and never got better. The poor start reflects an ongoing issue for the young quarterback. Early in his first two starts he had errant throws. He said after the Toronto Argonaut game the previous week that he was so hyped up he missed receivers on consecutive plays that would have been a touchdown. 

Against Ottawa he mentioned overthrowing receivers. He said once he has been able to get a couple of receptions he settles down. He said he needs to work at not getting amped up before games.

Craig Dickenson, the Riders’ head coach, said he cannot help Fajardo to avoid getting too amped before games. It is up to the player.

On Saturday night the Riders desperately needed a better start from Fajardo. They ran four plays on offence in the first quarter.

In the previous games Fajardo was making the good quick decisions needed by a CFL quarterback.

An example was the 98-yard pass to Kyran Moore for a touchdown in the Argonaut game. Fajardo said he knew there was man coverage coming and he saw the defender pressing and Moore beat him at the line.

Against the Stampeders it appeared if he could not find his primary option he was pulling the ball down and trying to run with the ball. No quarterback can succeed with such an approach. He recognized in his post-game comments that he was vacating the pocket too early.

Fajardo has a tendency, when he feels pressure, to back up or turn and try to run to the outside. Neither strategy works well in professional football. Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell is a master at stepping up in the pocket or sliding a step or two to the side to gain time to either find a receiver down field or throw the ball away.

Fajardo has several seasons of professional football. He knows better. On at least one occasion his back pedaling let to a big sack. William Powell was blocking the blitzer to the outside. Going backward put Fajardo directly in the path of the rusher. Had he stepped up he would have had time to throw.

Fajardo is a committed Christian. He spoke of God having a reason for holding him back as a quarterback. Later answering why he thought he had not had an earlier chance to be a starting quarterback he mentioned being behind healthy quarterbacks. In particular, he was in Toronto in 2017 when Ricky Ray started all but one game and they won the Grey Cup.

I was not surprised by that comment about God’s plan for him. I was startled when he then spoke of “a sprinkle of Jesus” helping the pass to Moore be where it needed for the completion. I consider faith important but have never thought God would intervene in a sports event.

I was impressed by his post-game comments after the Calgary game in which he was not defensive and acknowledged mistakes and outlined what he needed to do better. I will be very interested if he stays in the pocket under pressure in the Riders next game against the BC Lions. Fajardo said he needs to stay there.

Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.

 

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