Young Riders get a unique chance to shine this weekend in Hamilton

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Week 16 is an important one for several young players for the Saskatchewan Roughriders as they face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The game means nothing in the standings as they can’t catch Winnipeg for first place and third-place Calgary isn’t catching them. So it is an opportunity for some young players to show what they can do in live game action. Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson is expecting the young guns to be ready to go on Saturday.

“Especially (Isaac) Harker, he’s been bouncing off the walls this week. These guys know it’s a big game for them. There was no pre-season, so the ability for a young player to come in and make an impression and make the team based off their play is limited, in fact, it was non-existent,” Dickenson told the media Friday.

“In a lot of ways, this is a chance for them to audition and come back next year. If a guy really shows, there’s no set rules that say you can’t dress them in the playoff if they look in this last game so some of these guys are playing for jobs now, some of them are playing for next year as well.”

The most noticeable audition will be happening under centre with Isaac Harker making his first start since Week 21 of the 2019 season. Dickenson says fans will see both Harker and Mason Fine against Hamilton.

“We’re planning on getting Harker the vast majority of reps, we do want to give Mason a couple series. I’m going to let coach Maas control that but you will see Mason out there. We’re hoping for a series or two depending on the game, but both of them will play tomorrow. You have my word on that.”

Another player of interest for the Green and White on Saturday will be linebacker Michael Pinckney.

The six-foot-one, 220-pound linebacker returned to the Roughriders in September after attending training camp with the team this summer. He previously signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent and spent the 2020 season on their practice roster.

He says getting cut stung but he’s happy to show what he’s got.

“I told them I was upset by that because I got here like three days before cuts. At the end of the day it’s a business so I wasn’t too upset but just coming back and them giving me the opportunity to come back, I think that speaks volumes of what they think of me,” Pinckney explained.

“It’s a good opportunity to put some good film out there. Coming in late it’s already established what’s going on so you just come in and try to help the team as best you can so it’s good for the young guys to get some opportunities this week.”

Prior to turning pro, Pinckney had a very successful collegiate career at the University of Miami, starting in all 13 games as a true freshman, leading him to being named a Freshman All-American by ESPN.

Dickenson is excited for Pinckney’s potential to help in some key matchups in the playoffs.

“We think he’s a run stopper. We like his physical play, we think he’s a guy who can really help us against teams like Winnipeg that run the ball, teams that are very physical upfront. We think he brings something to the table and we got to see him in a full game so it’s a big game for him.”

Over four seasons and 49 games at ‘The U,’ Pinckney made 267 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, three interceptions, eight passes defended, and one fumble recovery. He earned All-ACC honourable mentions in 2017 and 2018 and was named second-team All-ACC as a senior in 2019.

He says he’s still adjusting to some of the rules north of the border.

“The way you play coverages might be different because the field is so wide and you got the waggle pass so a man might not be a man, a cover two might not be a cover two. The no yards rule. You know, it’s funny — I played the Calgary game like two or three weeks ago and they took the ball instead of kickoff but I didn’t know you could do that. I thought I had a concussion because I was like, Did I miss kickoff?’ But it’s been a good experience for me.”

There is one thing Pinckney isn’t used to yet: late fall in Saskatchewan.

“It’s been different with the snowstorm. It’s been an experience. I was in New England, it was cold in New England, I think this is the coldest I’ve ever been.”

Saskatchewan (9-4) faces Hamilton (7-6) Saturday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field with kickoff slated for 4:00 p.m. ET.