Riders’ Craig Dickenson sees no disadvantage in Cody Fajardo’s union-imposed absence from rookie camp

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Star quarterback Cody Fajardo will not be leading the Saskatchewan Roughriders through rookie camp this year, but head coach Craig Dickenson does not believe that will be a problem for his team.

Fajardo’s absence is a result of the ongoing collective bargaining dispute between the Canadian Football League and its Players’ Association. The CFLPA instructed veteran quarterbacks not to attend voluntary practice sessions in the lead-up to training camp, but Riders brass sees no disadvantage to rookie camp being just for rookies. It simply means more reps for the people that need them.

“The rookies need two or three days to really have a chance,” Dickenson said. “We challenge the rookies to get everything they can out of these few days because when the vets come, the pace of practices picks up. We throw more information at you and hopefully they feel like it’s a head start so that they can at least compete.”

Fajardo’s absence is an opportunity for the four other quarterbacks in camp — Mason Fine, Jake Dolegala, Troy Williams, and U Sports QB intern Josh Donnelly — to settle in for the backup competition. This would have simply been a tune-up period for the starter and while a lacklustre 2021 season across the CFL showed the consequences of lost time on offensive chemistry, there is no need to panic over a handful of instructional practices.

The concern will set in if the CFL and CFLPA can’t reach a new agreement before the existing CBA expires on May 14, potentially triggering a strike on the eve of training camp. Despite heated public comments by the union, Dickenson doesn’t believe a work stoppage will come to fruition and keep him away from his starting quarterback longer than necessary.

“I’m optimistic. I think cooler heads will prevail and I think we’re going to have a deal at some point,” he said. “Until then, we control what we can, which is the rookies, and we’re going to work as hard as we can with them and get them ready to go.”

The CFL reportedly offered the players a new deal on Wednesday, but the proposal is not yet up to their standards. With less than 72 hours to go until the deadline, many people around the league are far less certain of success than Dickenson, but he remains unphased.

“I don’t know what’s going on in those rooms and neither do any of you,” he told the media. “We’ll let the people that are in those rooms figure it out and I’m quite optimistic that we’ll have everybody here when they’re supposed to be here.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.