Craig Dickenson says Saskatchewan Roughriders will ‘really emphasize’ running the ball in 2023

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson wants his team to be more physical this season and that starts with running the football.

“We’re going to really emphasize getting off the football and running the ball this year,” Dickenson told the media at training camp. “I want to run it more every year but we’ve gotta be able to do it well, so that was a point of emphasis is it’s not just the running back, it’s the guys up front.”

The Riders ran the ball 332 times this past season, which was the second-fewest total league-wide. Offensive coordinator Jason Maas was fired and replaced by Kelly Jeffrey, who served as the team’s running backs coach in 2022.

Though the club recorded relatively few carries last year, Saskatchewan’s run game was productive when given an opportunity to shine. The club recorded an average of 5.2 yards per carry, which ranked tied for third in the CFL.

Jamal Morrow ran for 666 yards and three touchdowns over 12 starts, while Frankie Hickson rushed for 533 yards and one touchdown over 13 games with four starts. The two ball-carriers will compete for the starting job in training camp along with American youngsters B.J. Emmons, Javian Hawkins, Rodney Smith, Canadian veteran Kienan LaFrance, and 2023 CFL Draft pick Thomas Bertrand-Hudon.

“That’s a good room,” said Dickenson. “We’ve got an abundance of good ones back there, so we’ll try to sort it out as best we can. You can’t keep them all but there’s some good ones there and we’re excited to see what they do.”

The offensive line will be watched closely in training camp after allowing a league-worst 77 sacks in 2022. The club added Peter Godber and Philip Blake in free agency, while veterans Terran Vaughn and  Dan Clark weren’t retained.

Godber is expected to replace Clark as the starting centre, while Blake has experience at every position across the line. He most recently started at left tackle for the Toronto Argonauts during their successful Grey Cup run in 2022.

“We’re trying to find the best five,” said Blake. “Whatever combination the coach wants to see, the best five will be out there.”

Dickenson doesn’t seem worried about figuring out who the starters are going to be right away and will let things play out naturally over the course of training camp.

“We’re gonna be patient,” said the veteran coach. “We’re not going to decide until it decides for itself, so we’ll give them all ample opportunity to compete.”

Dickenson indicated that there’s no official timeline for the return of strong-side linebacker Derrick Moncrief, who is coming off shoulder surgery, though the club is hopeful he will be ready for the start of the regular season.