Jeremy O’Day says the Riders have the ability to start four Canadian offensive linemen

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Left tackle Terran Vaughn is the only American offensive lineman who remains on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ active roster following cutdown day on Friday, which means the team could start four Canadian blockers in Week 1.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day acknowledged this as a possibility, though he fell shy of confirming that it will happen in Saturday’s season-opening game against the B.C. Lions.

“We have the potential to go with four (Canadian) o-linemen if we choose to,” said O’Day via videoconference. “We have the potential to go with a couple Canadian receivers. We have the potential to go multiple positions on defence — defensive line, we could go linebacker, we could go obviously safety and also [defensive back]. There’s a lot of flexibility there.”

CFL teams are required to start a minimum of seven nationals (ie. Canadians) each game. Saskatchewan originally wanted to start two in the secondary, but a season-ending Achilles injury to first-round draft pick Nelson Lokombo threw a wrench into that plan.

It’s possible that Saskatchewan could start Godfrey Onyeka or Elie Bouka at field-side cornerback, but linebacker Micah Teitz and defensive tackle Makana Henry are other options to fill starting roles on defence.

“We want to be able to be flexible with our ratio and let the coaches decide on what’s the best combination of players to put out there,” said O’Day. “We want to make sure that coaches have the ability to do that. How we’re going to set the ratio will be up to Coach Dickenson and the coaching staff but we wanted to allow the flexibility so we’re happy to have so many quality Canadians.”

The position at which Saskatchewan has the most national talent is receiver. Former fourth-round draft pick Kian Schaffer-Baker was moved to the practice roster on cutdown day, leaving five national targets on the active roster — Jake Harty, Terrell Jana, Brayden Lenius, Justin McInnis, and Mitch Picton.

Only three American receivers remain on the active roster, which is a pretty strong indication that the club plans to start two Canadians in the receiving corps.

As for the offensive line, the most likely choice to push out to tackle is Brett Boyko, who was signed as a free agent in March after he was cut by the B.C. Lions. The Saskatoon native started five games at tackle early in 2019 but was demoted following a number of shaky performances.

Free agent addition Evan Johnson also has experience at right tackle, having started four games at that spot for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2019.

Former second-round NFL draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio was pencilled-in as a starter at right tackle when training camp opened, but he elected to retire due to chronic knee pain.

“We’ll wait to determine what the roster’s going to be until the day before the game like normal,” said O’Day. “You’ll probably see pretty early in the week of what the strategy is — it won’t be a secret because we’re in practice mode at that point. But we’ll let the coaches determine on where that goes, but we do have the ability to do that (start four Canadian offensive linemen).”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.