Riders planning to bring six quarterbacks to 2021 training camp

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day wants a half-dozen quarterbacks in training camp — pending COVID-19 protocols — to assess for the 2021 season.

Franchise QB Cody Fajardo is the unquestioned starter. Isaac Harker and James Franklin are the likely candidates to compete for the backup job. Former NFL passer Luke Falk has intriguing potential in the Canadian game, while Tom Flacco and Mason Fine have never thrown a pass in the pros.

“The plan is to bring six to camp. Some of that will depend on if our numbers remain the same, which we hope they do,” O’Day said during a videoconference.

“If we’re able to come to a rookie camp with 100 players on the roster, we want to have a chance to evaluate those guys, they’ve been on our neg list for a while now and we want to have the opportunity to see them in person.”

Teams around the league are anticipating a 75-man roster for training camp, which could only be 10 days long — and there’s a strong possibility no pre-season games are played. In the ever-changing pandemic, the situation changes by the day. All nine organizations must be ready to pivot quickly.

“One of the differences from a normal off-season, we usually get to go to free agent camps and also mini-camps in the off-season, so you get an opportunity to see some of the guys on your neg list prior to coming to regular rookie camp,” O’Day said.

“We weren’t able to do that this year where you can’t go and actually see them throw in person. So this will give us an opportunity to evaluate those guys up close and personal in camp, and then we can make decisions from there.”

The most intriguing signal-caller on the roster outside of Fajardo is Falk. He played under head coach Mike Leach at Washington State University in the ‘Air Raid’ offence offence. Together Falk and Leach lit up the Pac-12 and set all-time school and conference passing records.

Falk was selected in the sixth round, 188th overall by the Tennessee Titans. After bouncing from the Miami Dolphins to the New York Jets, the 26-year-old played in three games during the 2019 season, starting two. The Jets lost both games, but the team was trending in the wrong direction when he was in New York.

O’Day added Falk to the Riders’ exclusive negotiation list on January 14, 2020. The GM had to wait over a year, but after the six-foot-four, 215-pound quarterback watched the entire last NFL season from home — except for a workout with the San Francisco 49ers — Falk decided to come to Canada and sign with Saskatchewan.

Even though Flacco and Fine haven’t played a game of professional football, both quarterbacks feel like the types of players who could succeed at the game’s most important position, especially in the CFL. Many times in the three-down league, it’s the lesser-known pivots who arrive without the hype that go all out and make a name for themselves.

“It’s a tricky situation, you want to make sure everyone is getting a good opportunity, and there’s only a limited amount of reps that you can have,” O’Day said. “You may have to make a decision sooner than later in training camp.”

Every snap could mean the difference between the start of a budding CFL career or the end of an opportunity with the Riders.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.