‘We’re trying to see who the alpha males are’: Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson isn’t worried about Garrett Marino’s training camp fisticuffs

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

After practicing on a gym floor Thursday, a couple of Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they’d rather have Friday’s training camp session in an octagon.

Fisticuffs between defensive tackle Garrett Marino and offensive lineman Na’Ty Rodgers overshadowed the Riders’ first practice back on the field after conclusion of the CFL players’ strike, but head coach Craig Dickenson was all smiles addressing the media after the fact.

Clearly dealing with conflict on the field is much preferable to watching warring sides off of it.

“These guys want to play and everybody who’s out there was probably the best athlete at their school, probably the toughest kid in their class,” Dickenson explained. “It’s a little bit of a pecking order thing. We’re trying to see who the alpha males are and every one of them thinks they’re that guy.”

Few around the league were surprised to learn that it was Marino who was involved in the Riders’ first fight of the season. The second-year man out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham earned quite the reputation for ferocity and hot-headedness as a rookie, with many believing he could develop into a league all-star if he simply plays with more discipline going forward.

Marino racked up 13 tackles and four sacks in his first year as a Rider, though he was limited to only seven regular-season games due to a knee injury. That injury took place during the Banjo Bowl, a game from which he was also ejected after throwing a punch.

With Marino expected to take on a bigger role this season, some may see the early fight in practice as a red flag. Dickenson doesn’t share those concerns.

“He’s a tough dude. He’s a handful. And some of these o-linemen we brought in are tough guys too,” he said. “It’s part of training camp, I bet you every single one of them it’s going to happen once or twice. We just don’t want it to be an everyday occurrence.”

In a high testosterone environment like the football field, Dickenson won’t lose any sleep when the occasional haymaker is thrown. He did lay out a few ground rules for his players, however.

“The one message I have to the team is we can put up with a few emotional outbursts on the field, but we don’t want it to spill into the locker room,” Dickenson stressed.

“We talk about respecting each other enough that it ends when it ends, which is on the field, and then when we go into the locker room it’s over with and we move on.”

As long as Marino and Rodgers can do that, they’ll have no problem sticking around long enough to hit actual opponents.

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