Little Room for Rookie Receivers with Riders

CFL coaches like veterans.

Why shouldn’t they? Veterans make fewer mental mistakes, so they block the right guys, blitz in the proper lanes and rarely run the wrong pass patterns.

Which is why Jamel Richardson and Taj Smith, a pair of veteran receivers who did virtually nothing noteworthy throughout the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ preseason, made the team’s 46-man roster.

Meanwhile, promising and younger receivers like Alex Carroll, Alex Pierzchalski, Greg Hardin and Naaman Roosevelt got dumped by the Roughriders after impressive preseasons. Pierzchalski subsequently joined the Ottawa Redblacks while Carroll and Roosevelt signed onto Saskatchewan’s practice roster and Hardin disappeared.

Richardson is an 11-year veteran who re-joined the Roughriders after spending six seasons with the Montreal Alouettes, A five-time 1,000-yard receiver, Richardson hadn’t played since a serious knee injury midway through 2013. He started training camp slowly and didn’t get much faster, although he did prove that his surgically repaired knee can withstand some punishment.

Richardson’s preseason highlight came in Saskatchewan’s second preseason game, when he drew a pass-interference penalty — not a tough task this year! — in the Riders’ end zone to set up a first-and-goal situation.

Richardson had been running exclusively with the first-team receivers, as described by quarterback Darian Durant as “our five” starters. More foreshadowing came from Riders head coach Corey Chamblin when asked before cutdown day about Richardson’s performance.

“We know what we’re getting from J-Rich,’’ said Chamblin.

Smith was rarely mentioned. Nor was he noticed during two preseason contests, although memory recalls one pass being thrown in his direction.

Smith has been with the Roughriders for three seasons. He’s got a court date set in December to defend himself against assault charges stemming from a brawl in Regina two years ago. There are rumours the case may yet be dismissed.

Smith last season missed a practice for breaking terms of his probation during a road trip in Ottawa. When commentators describe Smith, they wonder if it’s worth keeping him on the roster because of his “distractions” and “baggage.’

Of course it’s worthwhile. He’s a veteran.

The Roughriders are implementing a new offensive scheme under co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. Not one newcomer made the starting offence, although sixth-overall draft pick Nic Demski will likely see lots of playing time.

There are some rookies on Saskatchewan’s roster, most notable being defensive tackle Rory Connop, linebackers Jeff Knox Jr. and Telvion Clark and punter Ray Early.

It looks like three rookies are going to be starters for the Roughriders. There’s an old coaching adage that you lose one football game for every rookie in your starting lineup. So it’s apparently been decided already: Keep the veterans and the Riders will be 15-3 this season.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.