Riders ‘expect’ Jake Dolegala to be starting QB for Week 7 after Cody Fajardo, Mason Fine miss practice

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

The Saskatchewan Roughriders appear to be down to their last quarterback, as head coach Craig Dickenson has said he expects third-stringer Jake Dolegala to be the team’s starting quarterback in Week 7.

“We expect Dolegala to start,” Dickenson said, according to Britton Gray of CJME. “We can play Mason or Cody as well, I don’t mean to sound vague but it’s the truth. We have all three of them if we want them.”

The comments came after starter Cody Fajardo and backup Mason Fine were both absent from practice on Thursday. Whichever player is healthy enough to dress will likely serve as Dolegala’s backup on Sunday, though Dickenson left the door open for a change.

“I’m not going to handcuff our offense, I’ll backtrack a little bit. The offense can start who they want. It was Dolegala today but we will see who it is tomorrow,” Dickenson said. 

“I’m not going to say we’re going to start Jake but the plan today was to play Jake because there were no other quarterbacks available.”

Fajardo has been wearing a brace on his left knee since Week 2 and reportedly suffered a “major setback” to the injury in last week’s Touchdown Atlantic game after being tackled low by Toronto defensive tackle Shawn Oakman.

Dickenson said earlier this week that Fajardo was 50/50 to play in the rematch, with some critics calling for the quarterback to be rested for his own safety. The 30-year-old completed 24-of-34 of his passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in Wolfville, N.S., but played with a distinct limp and has been unable to scramble for much of the year.

Mason Fine was expected to be the next man up if Fajardo couldn’t go but the backup missed practice with an illness, according to a report from Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post.

Thursday was the team’s first practice of the week after a COVID outbreak affecting at least 10 player forced the team to cancel on Tuesday and Wednesday. As a result, the Riders’ Week 7 game originally scheduled for Saturday has been postponed to Sunday.

The names of players in COVID-19 protocol have not been officially named, but Jeremy O’Day said this week that all position groups had been affected — including quarterback.

Both Fine and Fajardo were listed as suffering from illness on the team’s injury report, while Fajardo had a knee designation as well.

As a result, third-stringer Jake Dolegala was the lone man in charge of the offence on Thursday and will be unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight come gameday. Signed by the Riders this offseason, the 25-year-old rookie has spent the entirety of the 2022 season stashed on the team’s one-game injured list.

Standing at six-foot-seven and 242 pounds, Dolegala was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and spent the entire season on their active roster. He played in two preseason games with the Bengals that same year and completed 37-of-54 pass attempts for 347 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed three times for 12 yards.

The native of Hamburg, N.Y. went on to spend time with the New England Patriots (2020-21), Green Bay Packers (2021) and Miami Dolphins (2021) before heading north.

Dolegala attended Central Connecticut State University, where he played in 44 games over four seasons (2015-18). Over his time as a Blue Devil, he completed 654 passes for 8,129 yards, 48 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions and added an additional 452 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He left the school its all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

In two preseason appearances for the Riders, Dolegala was 15-of-21 passing for 147 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.