CFL training camp is underway and thousands flocked to Mosaic Stadium to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Green and White scrimmage on Saturday.
With no pre-season games on the schedule, the scrimmage was the only opportunity for head coach Craig Dickenson to see how his players would perform in a game-like environment. As well, get the players conditioned for game day.
It was great to see the familiar faces of Rider Nation come to Mosaic Stadium.
“It has been way too long, but the day has finally come. We can come back to Mosaic Stadium to watch the Riders in action,” one excited Rider fan mentioned to me as everyone was lining up to enter the stadium.
I felt a bit of ‘normal’ again taking a seat and waiting for the scrimmage to begin and I could feel and see the excitement in the air with fans back in the stands. After all, it has been around 630 days since fans have been back to Mosaic, but who’s counting?
The whole game was dominated by the defence. Points came from three field goals by international kicker, Henry Nell, with his longest coming from 38 yards out. There was also a single point scored by Jon Ryan’s monster 64-yard punt into the end-zone.
With the defence coming in hot, it was very difficult for any of the five Riders’ quarterbacks to get into a rhythm. We all can confidently say that Cody Fajardo is the starter, but who stood out to me the most for the number two spot was Isaac Harker.
Harker impressed me in 2019 with his game play, confidence and his high level of intelligence. Harker is a student of the game — he mentioned that he was studying the playbook during the COVID-19 hiatus in 2020 and watching film five days a week. That’s the type of discipline you can’t teach.
His presence on the field on Saturday showed us that. He came prepared, threw for 48 yards total and executed well as only Harker and Tom Flacco did not throw an interception during the game. Harker is someone to watch.
Another standout for me was defensive lineman Garrett Marino. The University of Alabama-Birmingham product brought constant pressure to the line and it will be hard to keep him off the field despite the depth the Riders have along the defensive line.
Canadian receiver Mitch Picton showed up to ball out. In the past I felt like Picton was overlooked when getting playing time, and this scrimmage showed why he should be considered for the main receiving corps for the 2021 season.
He caught passes from all but one quarterback and was a reliable target all day, leading the scrimmage with 58 receiving yards. Coach Craig Dickenson even noticed his versatility after the practice as a quality that could land him a job.
With starter A.C. Leonard not playing, Pete Robertson stepped up in his spot at defensive end. Robertson had a few pressures, a knockdown and a sack. Robertson spent time with the Arizona Cardinals, Washington Football Team and Seattle Seahawks over the last three seasons, playing in six regular season games. I could tell his physicality will be an asset for this team and maybe an option to replace fan favourite Charleston Hughes.
I was also impressed with what I saw by receiver Brayden Lenius, who is a notable exception after shedding 26 pounds and excelling at training camp from. The athlete has a newfound love of a plant-based diet and is concentrating on healthy food alternatives. Whatever he is doing is working, he is a lean athletic machine out there.
Even Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo has spoke highly of Lenius, calling him “the MVP of the camp so far.” Lenius came into camp wanting to get better and he did just that, showing us during the green and white scrimmage he grabbed 10 receiving yards.
His father, Troy Dickey, was a receiver with the Riders in 1995 and suffered a stroke just two days before Lenius was to play for the University of Washington Huskies in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. Dickey died soon after the game at age 46.