‘The straw that stirs the drink’: Riders need to neutralize Willie Jefferson in Banjo Bowl

The Riders are trying to find a way to limit Willie J.

The reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player ruined the Labour Day Classic in Regina by wreaking havoc on Cody Fajardo and Saskatchewan’s offence. Jefferson recorded three defensive tackles and one sack while providing constant pressure to help force three interceptions.

“He’s so disruptive, he’s long, he’s athletic, he plays hard and he forces offences to try to do things they’re uncomfortable doing in a way to try to control him,” Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson said.

“Willie is the straw that stirs the drink and he causes teams to have to do things differently to handle him and I think that opens opportunities for other guys.”

Jackson Jeffcoat has taken advantage of the attention given to Jefferson by opposing offences. He has four sacks and a league-high four forced fumbles through five games in 2021 playing on the other side of Jefferson.

“It’s not just Willie over there, Jeffcoat is very good,” Dickenson said.

Two-time CFL MODP Adam Bighill has been directing the league’s stingiest defence at middle linebacker. Winnipeg has allowed the fewest points despite being one of just two teams to play five games. The Blue Bombers have given up a CFL-low 13.4 points per game.

“Where Willie goes the defences tend to be pretty darn good,” Dickenson said. “They’re very good all the way across the board.”

Veteran centre Dan Clark is tasked with putting his offensive line in the best position to block Jefferson. Clark knows the six-foot-seven, 252-pound defensive end well from their three seasons as teammates (2016-2018) in Regina and enjoys the trash talk in the trenches now that they’re wearing different colours.

“We have a little chat every now and then, but it’s all fun, ex-teammates we mix it up. Him playing for Winnipeg it’s a fun atmosphere and allows us to get after it,” Clark said.

“He’s super long and he can cover multiple gaps very quickly. That defensive front, they play extremely well together.”

Saskatchewan was leading the league in points scored entering Week 5, but after producing eight in the first part of the home-and-home the Riders have fallen out of the top spot for offensive point production. The Riders were held out of the end zone and managed two field goals and two singles in the 23-8 loss.

Fajardo and his offence will enter a sold out IG Field for the 17th Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon trying to combat Jefferson.

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