May has been a good month for Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Jake Dolegala.
First, he got lots of attention at training camp in Saskatoon with some onlookers suggesting he, and not last year’s backup Mason Fine, would win the number two spot on the depth chart behind new face-of-the-franchise quarterback Trevor Harris.
That was before a Regina judge acquitted the 26-year-old former Cincinnati Bengal of the charge of driving while impaired from an arrest last September. Even Dolegala admits that having that in the rear-view mirror is helping him focus on football.
But despite a solid start in the Roughriders’ first preseason game, a 30-27 win over the B.C. Lions on Saturday night, the prospects of the six-foot-seven giant of a man nailing down that backup spot became a little more complicated. That’s because Mason Fine rebounded from an early pick-six to complete eight of his own 10 pass attempts for two touchdowns, both to Mitch Picton, including a game-winning drive in the dying minutes.
That compared favourably with Dolegala’s own 12-of-17 passing for 97 yards, including a drop which helped stalled a drive in the first quarter. The QB’s clear height advantage and soft touch passes have shown the Rider front office there is potential in the second-year man and has likely inclined them to give him the benefit of the doubt in this battle. However, head coach Craig Dickenson says it isn’t so cut and dry at this point.
“I thought all three quarterbacks played pretty well,” Dickenson said in reference to Dolegala, Fine and Shea Patterson, who came in during the second quarter and played the entire third as well.
Patterson hit rookie receiver Keith Corbin III with a 22-yard touchdown strike late in the third quarter, queuing the comeback for the green and white in their first preseason win since 2014.
“We wanted to give them reps,” said coach Dickenson. “That’s the only way you really know. The majority of the reps this next week will go to Trevor (Harris) but we’re hoping after watching the film, we can have a little bit of clarity but that may not be clear and that’s good when you have tough decisions to make.”
Two of the three quarterbacks battling behind starter Harris will likely be kept around and one possibility bandied about in the press box on Saturday night was the idea that Shea Patterson might make this team as the third-stringer, possibly used for short-yardage plays.
Patterson didn’t sound so enthusiastic about that idea after the game.
“I don’t think my role would be to QB sneak on third-and-1,” Patterson said.
“I have a full grasp of the offence. Today was just getting the kinks out in the first couple drives.”
Patterson, who was the first-ever first-overall pick in the new United States Football League draft a year ago, calls the comparison between that league and the CFL “relative.” He clearly sees himself as a viable contender to win the backup job with the Riders.
Based on the skillset Jake Dolegala offers, it would appear as though it’s his job to lose and he played well enough to keep it Saturday night. But he didn’t cement it either.
With Trevor Harris’ return imminent from the birth of his third child in Ohio, he’s expected to get most of the reps in the final preseason game next week on Friday in Winnipeg. That limits the opportunity for any of the other three quarterbacks to stand out in their competition.
After a 2022 season in which starter Cody Fajardo was benched, their backup got pounded to the tune of 11 sacks in his only two starts, and another pivot got arrested, to suggest things are looking better for the Roughriders’ quarterback room in 2023 would be an understatement.
However, the preseason game that was supposed to tell us who would be the backup this year, has instead left us all with more questions than answers.