‘Hopefully elevate that group’s performance’: Roughriders enter off-season looking for offensive line help

It’s clear as day the Saskatchewan Roughriders plan to build around Cody Fajardo.

Within days of the Rider quarterback ranting about his receivers not fighting enough for ’50-50 balls’ in Calgary, the team signed the best NFL cut pass catcher available in Duke Williams.

Williams was key in Saskatchewan’s four-game win streak that rounded out the regular season schedule that mattered in addition to his role in the playoff win over Calgary and giving an otherwise sputtering green and white offence a fighting chance in Winnipeg.

Williams will be one of many free agents the Riders hope to re-sign this off-season but head coach Craig Dickenson hinted another part of the offence will have to be upgraded in order for Fajardo and his star receivers to truly fulfill their potential.

“The o-line dictates what happens on offence, if they play well, usually your offence plays well. That being said, I’m proud of the o-line, I thought they did a nice job,” Dickenson said.

“There [were] a lot of moving parts, we lost some tackles early in camp and a couple of guys just decided to quit and we never did really have a group that we felt like was the group we wanted from day one.”

Centred by veteran Dan Clark, using free agent pickup Evan Johnson and rookie Logan Ferland at right and left guard, respectively, the Riders also had Brett Boyko starting at right tackle. All four of them are Saskatchewan born-and-bred and still could be the answer if they are able to gel together with more experience.

“I thought [offensive line coach Stephen] Sorrells did a nice job this year. I thought the o-line as a group really played hard and played up to maybe as good as they could play. I think they did the best they could, given the circumstances they were in,” Dickenson said.

The spot that seemed to take the most criticism this year and most likely destined for a change would be the left tackle position where the Riders platooned American imports Andrew Lauderdale and Cam Jefferson.

It remains to be seen if the green and white can find any Canadian or American free agents they can afford who would be stout enough to fill that role and adequately protect Fajardo’s blind side.

“I just think we’ve got to get a little bit better across the board on the o-line and I think we’ve got to take a good look at some good free agents and maybe try to bring some guys into camp next year that can compete for jobs, and hopefully elevate that group’s performance,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson expects he will talk to guard Brendon LaBatte who opted out of the 2021 season due to a combination of a prorated salary and COVID protocols but doesn’t expect to see LaBatte back with the green and white anytime soon.

If the Riders year-end press conference is any indication, the team thinks it’s o-line is the last remaining piece to the puzzle to make their offence what it should be and strong enough to beat Winnipeg, clearly their biggest rival in the CFL.

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