Through the early stages of their training camp, the Saskatchewan Roughriders haven’t been wearing full pads or hitting anybody. And they actually walk through their drills for entire sessions, without a single play being run at full speed or full contact. Imagine that!
Actually, it’s not a new idea. Legendary coach Don Matthews limited the full-contact drills during his training camps with the B.C. Lions, Toronto Argonauts, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Baltimore Stallions, Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos. Matthews wanted to keep his players fresh, which helped them in the learning process.
Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin feels the same way.
“This is not a wear-and-tear camp,’’ said Chamblin. “Moreso it’s about us getting ready for the season.’’
The Roughriders coaches want their players well-prepared, knowledgeable about their playbooks. It’s easier to study when your body isn’t screaming at you. And the coaches don’t want their players getting injured, especially when practising against teammates.
Chamblin has promised the players will don shoulder pads and football pants, that there will be some contact during camp. It’s nearly impossible to ascertain the ability of an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman unless they’re matched up in one-on-one, full contact drills. Those one-on-ones are often the highlights of training camp, attracting the attention of coaches and fans and certainly assistant general manager Jeremy O’Day, a former offensive lineman.
There was always an unwanted side effect from reducing the number of contact drills during training camp — Matthews’ teams tackled poorly in the early stages of the season. But they got better as the season progressed. And by carrying over the no-pads philosophy during the regular season, it reduced the chances of players getting injured during practices.
Chamblin’s team is alternating light walk-throughs with light workouts. His current philosophy is a good one, particularly because the Roughriders are going to be in Saskatoon for a 16-day training camp. Spending that much time away from their home base in Regina also serves as a team-bonding exercise.
By mid-June the Roughriders will have decided whether Cory Watman or Dan Clark is their starting centre. They’ll know if veteran receiver Jamel Richardson, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has recovered enough from a major knee injury to become a starter. Through training camp and two preseason games the Roughriders will determine who starts in their defensive backfield — although Chamblin will characteristically tinker with the cast all year — and whether National Jerome Messam or International Anthony Allen fits best into the schemes of new offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. There will be enough hitting in the regular season to see if the Roughriders made the right choices.