Riders’ receiver Duke Williams sticking to the basics in attempt to form ‘dynamic duo’ with Shaq Evans

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

“Don’t try to do nothing out of the ordinary. Be you. At the end of the day, don’t change your game.”

That was receiver Duke Williams’ advice to rookies following the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ first on-field session of training camp on Friday and the CFL star intends to live by his own motto.

Then again, it’s rather easy to stick to your game when you’re regarded as one of the league’s premier pass-catchers and perhaps its biggest off-season prize.

After joining the team late last season following his release by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, Williams re-signed ahead of the opening of free agency and enters his first Riders’ training camp with high expectations.

The six-foot-three, 225-pound receiver’s big-play ability has been viewed as the answer to all of Saskatchewan’s offensive woes, a down-field jump-ball specialist who can take quarterback Cody Fajardo’s game to the next level. Williams himself has no such expectations. He’s keeping it simple, making it clear he’ll do whatever is necessary to help the team win.

“Whatever role they want me to play, it don’t really matter to me. Whatever they need me to play, whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it,” he insisted. “If they need me to block, I’ll block. Catch? I’ll catch. It don’t matter. Whatever the coach’s role for me is, I’ll just play it like I’m supposed to.”

There is no question that Williams genuinely means those words, one need only to look at his success as the team’s onside kick recovery specialist last year to see that the star is willing to throw himself into less glamorous roles. However, the role the Riders most want him to fill is that of front-man in a one-two receiving punch with Shaq Evans, who struggled last year after a breakout 2019 season.

“We gotta put that work in and become a dynamic duo,” Williams acknowledged. “It started today. Me and Shaq are tight right now. At the end of the day, I feel like we could be very dynamic. Shaq’s great. He good. I’m great. I’m good. Cody’s great. We just gotta put it all together.”

“We can talk about it all we want, but we gotta walk. We gotta step out and dominate each and every play and show our defenders that they ain’t gonna guard us, not for four quarters. I mean that in the humblest way too.”

Even offensive domination has to begin with a basic foundation. Football is ultimately a simple game and while changes to the CFL’s field dimensions might open up more passing concepts for the dynamic duo to exploit, Williams doesn’t think narrower hash marks will change their job at all.

“Get open and catch the ball,” he emphasized with a grin. “That’s what it is to me, get open, catch the ball. Don’t matter how small or how big, at the end of the day it is me and whoever is in front of me and my job is to beat that character. That’s what it’s about for me, just competing, beating the man in front of me each and every play.”

Williams’ approach won’t change regardless of the situation and that goes for looking forward as well. With the 2022 Grey Cup set for Regina, the lure of a home championship is putting considerable extra pressure on the team. It isn’t affecting Williams, who stresses taking things one day at a time.

“Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Stay neutral,” he said. “Yeah, it’s in Regina, but we gotta get there first. We can talk about it all we want to, but at the end of the day, we gotta play these games just like these other teams competing for a Grey Cup.”

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.