Where the Riders will start Canadians on defence & 11 other things we learned

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager and head coach Chris Jones and quarterback Zach Collaros did their CFL conference call on Thursday. Here’s what we learned:

1. The Riders plan on playing three Canadians on defence, including one at linebacker.

“We’ve got some guys that we feel that can develop. The key for that crew [of linebackers] is to stay healthy. We will have at least one Canadian linebacker in the game all the time, we’ll have a free safety and we’ll have a nose tackle,” Jones said.

2. American offensive lineman Travis Bond, a free agent signing, will play guard.

“He’s going to play guard for us, whether he plays left or right is yet to be determined. I spent some time with him down in North Carolina this year, just a great guy, a big old country guy. He brings a level of physicality that a lot of people can’t bring in our league. We’re trying to become a more physical football team and that’s been taken into account in all three phases, free agency, the draft and our work out guys,” Jones said.

3. That means Canadians Brendan LaBatte, Dan Clark and Dariusz Bladek will compete for the starting centre and other guard spot.

“It will all take care of itself. The good thing about LaBatte is that he can play centre or guard. Bladek’s played both guards before and Clark brings tremendous leadership to our football team,” Jones said.

4. The left tackle spot is still to be determined with Americans Takoby Cofield and Terran Vaughn the leading contenders.

“Vaughn maybe has a little leg up because he spent the better part of half the year with us last year. And then Cofield he was a four-year starter there at Duke and was very very highly thought of coming out,” Jones said.

5. But 2016 first overall draft pick Josiah St. John is also in the mix at tackle.

“Oh yeah, no doubt. Josiah is a guy that we’re going to put him at his natural position which is tackle, it’s where he played college ball. We’re going to put him both at right and left tackle,” Jones said.

6. Free agent signing John Ojo will play field corner with Duron Carter getting a look at the boundary spot.

“John Ojo will play wide field where he was rookie of the year over in Edmonton. He’ll be at the wide field. And then Duron will be taking some reps at boundary corner and then we’ll have mostly free agent guys that came through mini-camp competing,” Jones said.

7. Zach Collaros is making friends with fellow quarterbacks Brandon Bridge, Marquise Williams and David Watford.

“I’ve got to know them a bit over the last couple of months. It’s weird being the oldest guy in the room, it’s the first time for that. But they are all good guys, we like to talk about the NBA and they’re pretty knowledgeable about the game of football. I’m excited to be able to pass some wisdom about the CFL game down to these guys and hear their perspectives as well. I’ve only been able to interact with them for a few days but it’s been a real good time,” Collaros said.

8. Jones wants American linebacker Sam Eguavoen to play middle linebacker this season… and he does a Chris Jones impression.

“Sammy Eguavoen is a great player, he’s probably one of the best athletes on the team. He doesn’t hardly ever speak unless he’s up there trying to impersonate me so we just want Sammy to come in and lead our football team in the middle,” Jones said.

9. After opening 2017 with a 2-4 record, Jones said a better start to the season is a priority.

“That’s something we have to address as a football team, we’ve got to get off on the right foot. You’re going to know right away because we play a game in the first week. in the first two days, you’re going to find out if a guy plays good when the lights come on. We’ve had plenty of guys that look good in practice but as soon as the lights came on he wasn’t the player we thought he was. We can make some decisions a week into our camp,” Jones said.

10. Jones talked up both his starting quarterbacks.

“Zach’s a very good player, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. When you go back and look at how good he was in high school… I’m from a small town and I know what it’s like to come up with a lot of expectations and the scrutiny that you get from the time that you’re a young kid and he’s had to endure that in Steubenville, Ohio I can assure you, because all they care about is the Big Red football team. Brandon Bridge was a big part of why we won 10 ball games last year and so with that being said, I feel very strongly about the quarterback position,” Jones said.

11. Jones explained how former NFL quarterback Steve Walsh became their quarterbacks’ coach.

“Steve Walsh came up here last year [to Argonauts training camp] and I’d heard from Marcus (Brady) what a great job you did with Ricky last year, being Ricky’s eyes and that type of thing. Quite honestly I didn’t know what his contract situation was and we got down to the Senior Bowl and we interviewed a bunch of people… we got him in front of us and we were just blown away. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and he’ll tell you it wasn’t his athleticism that kept him in as a quarterback all those years. He’s just a really smart guy that knows the system, he’s been in the West Coast up forever, I mean [Argos head coach Marc] Trestman recruited him out of high school. He’s just in an outstanding individual and we’re lucky to have him,” Jones said.

12. Jones hasn’t taken much time off.

“I took one [weekend] off at Christmas, one off at New Year and one off at Easter. Other than that we’ve been on the road every weekend,” Jones said.