Four Riders suffer Achilles injuries during standard Thursday workout, including two starters, second overall draft pick

Photo courtesy: Josh Schaefer, Athletics

A bad day has gotten much worse for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

After 3DownNation’s own Justin Dunk reported that prized free agent acquisition and projected starting middle linebacker Larry Dean tore his Achilles while working out at Mosaic Stadium, general manager Jeremy O’Day called an emergency media address to confirm that three other Riders have suffered similar injuries.

Defensive lineman Freddie Bishop III and a pair of rookie Canadians — defensive back Nelson Lokombo and running back Jonathan Femi-Cole — all injured their Achilles on Thursday. The four injuries are still being evaluated, but are expected to be long term.

Riders players arrived in Regina for training camp last Friday and began a seven-day quarantine. After a third negative COVID test, players were able to participate in distanced on-field workouts. Thursday was the third day of such workouts.

The four injuries occurred in quick succession during non-contact, non-competitive drills designed to get players warmed up for the season and reduce the risk of injury during training camp.

“I can say that in all my years of being around the game, I’ve never seen anything quite like this where we have four injuries like this in the same period of time. Usually you see one or two in a year, maybe,” O’Day told assembled reporters, noting his concern and disappointment for the players.

Many had speculated that the long layoff and mandatory quarantine forced by the pandemic would be the cause of a rash of injuries early in the CFL season and every CFL team has taken precautions in their training regime. The Riders best-laid plans couldn’t protect them from the unprecedented.

“Our goal as a team was the opposite of this. We wanted to slowly ramp up the players and even into training camp you’ll see that our practices are toned back,” O’Day acknowledged.

“We had the intent of this being the opposite, that was our plan going in so I think perhaps you are seeing some of the effects of the layoff.”

The GM does not believe the field at Mosaic Stadium played a role in the unfortunate development, but the Riders have already amended their practice plans in the hopes of preventing further damage to the team.

Signed by the Riders this offseason and projected to start opposite AC Leonard at defensive end, the 30-year-old Bishop spent the 2019 season with the Toronto Argonauts, playing in 18 games and making 40 tackles and six sacks for the Boatmen. Prior to signing in The Six, he played five games for the Memphis Express of the AAF, making four tackles and one tackle for a loss. 

The Michigan native played nine regular games for the New York Jets between 2016-2017, making 17 tackles and one pass deflection. Bishop played four pre-season games with the Detroit Lions in 2018, recording 12 tackles. The 2014 Grey Cup Champion spent three seasons with the Calgary Stampeders and made 55 tackles, 14 sacks and one forced fumble in 29 games played. 

Lokombo was selected by the Roughriders second overall in the 2021 CFL Draft. He had a sensational 2019 season at the University of Saskatchewan during which he won the Presidents’ Trophy as the country’s most outstanding defensive player.

In 30 career games with the Huskies, Lokombo has 115 tackles, 10 interceptions, six tackles for loss, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. In 2017, the Abbotsford native was named the Huskies’ Rookie of the Year and helped the team win Hardy Cup, bringing it back to the University of Saskatchewan for the first time in 10 years.  

The five-foot-10, 218-pound Femi-Cole finished his first season at Western University in 2019 and was drafted by the Riders at No. 53 overall in the sixth round of the 2020 CFL Draft. The Vaughn, Ontario native played in eight games for the Mustangs recording 40 carries for 174 yards and five touchdowns while adding four tackles.  

Prior to playing at Western, Femi-Cole attended the University of Minnesota where he played in 13 games, making one reception for 13 yards and 15 carries for 67 yards.

O’Day will look to add pieces to replace the four injured players, but that won’t happen overnight. Any new additions must undergo the same quarantine protocols as players headed for training camp, a seven-day self-isolation at home followed by a seven-day quarantine in Regina.

“I can’t say that I was prepared for this to happen so fast,” O’Day admitted.

“From my standpoint as a GM, I just have to regroup and look at the roster to determine whether there is players we could bring in or if we already have players that we think could take the opportunity that was opened by these injuries.”

The Riders will open training camp on Saturday, July 10.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.