The mood among players following the CFL board of governors’ approval of the league’s proposed 14-game schedule can only be described as ecstatic, but for some players those celebrations will be short lived.
That was the sentiment expressed by Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson when asked about some of the decisions he’ll be forced to make in training camp this July.
“You’re going to see some surprise cuts, I believe, this year in the CFL just because there will be guys that have worked hard and trained these past two years and then there will be guys that didn’t do as much as they should have and it’s going to show really fast,” the second-year bench boss said during a media availability Thursday.
That’s the reality of a training camp in which roster spots will be at a premium. Under the CFL’s COVID-19 protocols, teams will only be allowed 100 players in camp, a quota that includes traditional ‘non-counters’ like Canadian rookies and territorial exemptions. The Riders pre-season roster currently sits at 114 and while some retirements can be expected, the decision-making is already under way.
The tougher decisions will be made once the group arrives in Regina and it becomes clear who hasn’t lived up to their end of the bargain during the extensive time off.
“I do believe we’ll have some guys show up that didn’t do what they needed to do in the off-season,” Dickenson said.
“Does that make me nervous? No, because what’s going to happen is a good, young player is going to beat them out. And that’s just the way it is. Training camp is very competitive–this year it’s going to be more competitive than ever.”
With two full classes of Canadian draft picks and American neg list acquisitions to evaluate simultaneously, cracking a roster has never been tougher and quarantine requirements for replacement players means that if an athlete can’t cut it, that choice has to be made sooner rather than later. Dickenson had a simple message regarding what that means.
“This is going to be one of those year where if you come in out of shape, you come in not tuned in to your playbook and not ready to go, you’re not going to last,” he emphasized.
With that said, the coach understands returning to football after 18-months away will be an adjustment for most, including himself.
“For me personally it’s going to be the challenge of the [in game] situations that come up. I want to stay sharp and do a good job as a game manager. And the reality is you get better at that by doing it,” Dickenson said
Those types of kinks will hopefully be worked out in a proposed joint practice scrimmage with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a much needed substitute for tradition pre-season games that can be done in adherence with local COVID restrictions and within the league’s protocol.
Scrimmage or not, the Riders will open their season on Friday, August 6 in Regina, hopefully in front of a full Mosaic Stadium, and the screaming faithful are unlikely to spend much time pontificating on surprise cuts once the first boot hits pigskin.