Riders’ GM Jeremy O’Day explains club’s roster moves ahead of regular season

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Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day feels excited about his team’s four quarterbacks, so much so that the club elected to keep all four of them after finalizing cuts at the end of training camp.

“We didn’t want to move on from any of them, that was pretty much the conversation with the staff, the coaches, the head coach, and everyone involved. We just wanted to try to find a way to keep all four of them. We’ll see what the plan is going into Week 1,” O’Day told the media in Regina.

“We don’t have the answer of who’s going to be the number two or the number three going into it but that’ll be determined as the week goes on and as practice goes this week, it will become clear. Right now, they’re all Roughriders and we’re happy to have them all. It was a good problem to have when they all played well.”

Trevor Harris is the club’s unquestioned starter, though it remains unclear how Jake Dolegala, Mason Fine, and Shea Patterson will be positioned on the depth chart for Sunday’s season-opener against the Edmonton Elks. Dolegala threw for 146 yards in the preseason, while Fine threw for 196 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, and Patterson threw for 77 yards and a touchdown.

Fine, who is entering his third year with the team, was the club’s primary backup last season and started two games after Cody Fajardo was benched late in the year. Dolegala made one start in his first CFL season in 2022, though it was due to Fajardo and Fine being ineligible to dress for the game due to COVID-19 protocols.

One notable player the club released was veteran running back Kienan LaFrance, who has since signed with the B.C. Lions. Saskatchewan only plans to dress three Canadian running backs and fullbacks this season with Thomas Bertrand-Hudon, the club’s fourth-round pick in the 2023 CFL Draft, being one of them.

“Kienan’s been a good player for us and just an outstanding guy, great in the locker room. He’s a glue guy and those are really tough decisions when you have to make those decisions,” said O’Day.

“The decision just came down to which one do you do want on the roster and we decided that we were going to go a little bit younger there. I think Thomas had a very good camp and showed that it wasn’t too big for him and did a lot of good things for us.”

O’Day indicated that Stefen Banks, who was added in free agency from the Calgary Stampeders, was released because he got pushed out by younger players. He named newcomer Bryan Cox Jr. as one defender who impressed, though Anthony Lanier II also took reps at defensive end during the preseason. The breakout star recorded eight sacks over eleven regular season games last year at defensive tackle.

Offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, a former fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been placed on the suspended list due to what O’Day called “personal family issues.” It remains unclear if or when he will return to the team.

O’Day also revealed that Kaare Vedvik, the team’s incumbent punter, suffered a strained quad last week, which led Saskatchewan to keep two punters on the roster. Adam Korsak, the third overall pick in the 2023 CFL Global Draft, remains with the club and could get the nod if Vedvik is unavailable in Week 1.

Fans should expect both of the team’s American running backs, Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson, to be on the active roster in Week 1. The combination forms one of the most formidable duos in the CFL, which should help the team achieve their goal of running the ball more in 2023.

O’Day is aware that fans are upset following last year’s disappointing season that saw the club finish 6-12 following a promising 4-1 start. It was a long winter for the club’s brass, though the veteran personnel man is hopeful that fans will rally around the team as they try to right the ship this year.

“They’re long off-seasons when the team doesn’t have success, I’m not going to sugarcoat it by any means. They’re long and when you make substantial change, people grow impatient with that process. Ultimately, we felt like we needed to change in certain areas and obviously that’s what we did,” said O’Day.

“Hopefully people are going to be excited and people are gonna get behind us like they always have. That’s the expectation from me from being here for so long is our fans have always supported us and I think they understand that every year is a new year and we certainly are just excited to get it rolling and get started and see how our team does.”