Roughriders’ Craig Dickenson on benching QB Cody Fajardo: ‘We debated it after the second bye’

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ decision to bench incumbent starter Cody Fajardo took everyone by surprise but according to the team’s head coach the decision was almost made earlier in the season.

“We debated it after the second bye,” Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson told the media this week. “But the next game after that was at Winnipeg and we just didn’t feel like that was the game to make the move.”

The Riders’ second bye week came in Week 16 following their 26-24 home loss to the Edmonton Elks. In that game, Fajardo went 20-of-27 for 230 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 47 yards on the ground.

Fajardo would start the following week against the Bombers and again against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, both losses and both games in which the 2019 runner-up for Most Outstanding Player did not play his best football.

“We wanted to go with Cody for as long as we could,” said Dickenson. “He played well for long spurts and when we were winning he was a big reason why. We felt like we had to do it and we did it now.”

The Riders have been in a tailspin since opening the season with a 4-1 record. The green and white have lost nine of their last 11 and plummeted in the West Division standings.

Once thought to be a shoo-in for at least a crossover spot, Saskatchewan needs to win both of their remaining games and hope the Ticats lose next week against the Ottawa Redblacks to qualify.

Changing quarterbacks at this juncture is usually a sign of desperation, but the Riders are now a desperate bunch.

“We understand this is a big decision and one we don’t take lightly. We’re trying to do the best we can for the guys in the locker room to give us the best chance,” Dickenson stated.

“Our confidence as a whole hasn’t been where it needs to be. A lot of that comes from not performing as well as we want. We got to all play better to get that confidence back.”

There was a lot of criticism laid at Dickenson’s feet for referring to Monday’s practice as a “vet day” for his veteran starter when Fajardo did not take first-team reps, something he now understands was probably a mistake.

“I probably shouldn’t have called it a vet day,” Dickenson stated. “We basically didn’t want to give Calgary an extra day to prepare.”

Gamesmanship aside, categorizing Fajardo’s absence from on-field work on Monday did not seem to sit well with the former starter.

“He’s a tough guy and he doesn’t ever take a vet day. He didn’t want to take a vet day on day one either,” Saskatchewan’s bench boss said.

If Mason Fine’s insertion into the starting lineup lights the fire under the team that gets them into the playoffs, then the way it was handled will be forgotten.

If it doesn’t work, however, and the Riders miss out on post-season action in a year they host the Grey Cup, the team’s head coach might not get the chance to make another quarterback decision for the franchise.