‘That will be a concern all year’: Riders’ Craig Dickenson yet to settle on starting offensive line for season-opener

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders have not yet determined which five offensive linemen will take the field on Sunday night against Edmonton.

Speaking to members of the media following practice on Wednesday, head coach Craig Dickenson admitted that his team does not yet have a starting offensive line with just three days remaining until their season opener.

“No, we don’t,” Dickenson said, acknowledging he found the situation concerning. “That will be a concern all year if we can’t put the same guys out there.”

The offensive line has been a point of emphasis in Saskatchewan since last season when the team surrendered a record 77 sacks — 24 more than any other unit in the league. The team fell to 6-12 as a result and missed the playoffs in a season where they were scheduled to host the Grey Cup.

The Riders fired their offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells following the season and hired Anthony Vitale. They also moved on from long-time centre Dan Clark and left tackle Terran Vaughn in the offseason, while releasing right tackle Kooper Richardson mid-way through training camp.

The team signed a couple of former NFL offensive tackles in Jerald Hawkins and Jeremiah Poutasi to compete for the open jobs but have not yet seen the results. Hawkins was unable to participate in either preseason game and has been placed on the suspended list due to “personal family issues.” Poutasi, meanwhile, failed to report to training camp.

With free agent signee Peter Godber locked in as the team’s new centre, the team had hoped the addition of versatile veteran Philip Blake would push incumbent guards Logan Ferland and Evan Johnson. However, the 37-year-old Canadian may now be the team’s best option at left tackle, with he and journeyman Eric Lofton earning the bulk of first-team reps in the preseason.

Unfortunately, Blake did not participate in the first practice of the week due to a chest injury, adding an extra layer of uncertainty to the roster decision.

“We’ve got some questions still to answer and we’re gonna roll some guys in and out, and come up with our best five by gameday,” Dickenson said.

Saskatchewan brought veteran American Colin Kelly in this week following a stint in the XFL, hoping to alleviate their tackle concerns. However, the 33-year-old will not be available for the first two weeks of the season due to a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. That means all other options are on the table as potential starters, including Blake, Lofton, Hawkins, and practice squad player Brandon Council.

The Riders are currently -point underdogs against the Elks. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EDT at Commonwealth Stadium on June 11.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.