Former Rider Zack Evans believes lack of ‘vocal vets’ to blame for team’s rash of ‘stupid penalties’

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It is one statistical category that you don’t ever want to rack up numbers in, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders are making it an art form.

Heading into their Week 11 bye, the Riders had firmly seized control of the title of most penalized team in the CFL, drawing 104 pieces of cloth out of the referee’s pocket this season. The next closest team, Toronto, had just 89.

For a team in the thick of a heated West Division playoff race, the 907 yards they’ve surrendered on those calls have been devastating. Yet those with a vested interested in the club fear not enough has been done to address that issue and you can count Zack Evans among the concerned.

“I feel like there’s penalties that just happen in the game and then there’s stupid penalties that cost your team and cost yourself. I really feel like those penalties need to be taken very seriously and I feel like they need to be attacked more by the coaching staff,” the former Riders defensive tackle said in an appearance on The SportsCage.

“If a stupid penalty happens, if there’s a blatant late hit, take them off the field. If there is a blatant punch in the face, you know what, you’re going to get suspended [by the league], but let’s also do our own discipline off of the field.”

The Regina Thunder product, who began his career with his hometown team from 2012 to 2013 before returning from 2018 to 2020, was released by the club this offseason. He remains a fan and while Evans believes the coaching staff needs to do more to restore discipline, the burden of tough love leadership does not all fall on the shoulders of ‘nice guy’ Craig Dickenson.

With CFLPA regulations limiting how much additional punishment coaches can administer, it falls to the players to enforce things themselves. Right now, Evans does not believe that is happening to the same extent it once did in the Riders’ locker room.

“It’s a very young room. We don’t have many vets on that team. We have a few, but most of those vets aren’t that vocal,” he said.

“In the past, we’ve had very vocal vets who have stood up and said ‘we’re not doing this anymore.’ I had Mike McCullough just pissing people off because he’d be like ‘you know what, you’re an idiot. Why did you do that?’ Back in the day, Darian Durant would call a team out and be like ‘hey guys, we’re taking too many penalties, like what is going on?’ and really rise up to the occasion. I don’t feel like we’re having that right now.”

That appears to be a pointed attempt by Evans to call out some of his former teammates and spark a change, but even the former All-Star admitted that such shows of public discipline are much harder to execute these days. That was made clear by the media’s response to quarterback Cody Fajardo’s public criticism of his receivers for not winning contested throws, relatively mild comments that the starter was forced to apologize for.

“Just last week Fajardo got in trouble for doing something like that. It’s tough. We live in a day and age where you can’t really speak your mind without getting some flashback,” Evans acknowledged.

What has become clear in Riderville is that someone will have to take that risk and shock the team into changing their undisciplined approach. Unfortunately the man that appears most willing to do it is still just on the radio.