‘Mason is our quarterback’: Craig Dickenson giving Fine long leash as Riders’ starter

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson is giving quarterback Mason Fine the freedom to learn from his mistakes in his first extended look as a CFL starter.

“He’s got a long leash. Mason is our quarterback, Trevor is not coming back anytime soon,” Dickenson said following his team’s arrival in Halifax for Touchdown Atlantic. “We’ve got other quarterbacks on the roster we like but Mason is our starter and he’ll get ample opportunity to help us win the game.”

The 26-year-old made his first start of the season against the B.C. Lions last week and completed 32-of-41 passes for 284 yards and two interceptions. Almost all of Fine’s passes through the first three quarters of the game were short with both of his interceptions coming late once he was forced to make some deeper throws.

The Riders settled for three field goals in the 19-9 loss, generating just two drives of more than 30 yards and never finding the end zone. Dickenson wants to see Fine be more patient this weekend when he and the Riders take on the Toronto Argonauts at Huskies Stadium at Saint Mary’s University.

“I want to see him push the ball a little bit. I want to see him make good decisions. His reads were good last week, I think he just gave up on some a little early. I’d like to see him stick with his reads a little longer,” said Dickenson.

“Mason’s just got to get a little bit better and everyone on the team honestly has the same mandate. We’ve got to just get a little better across the board and when we get opportunities, we’ve got to take advantage.”

The Riders haven’t ruled out a potential late-season return for Harris after the 37-year-old underwent surgery last week, though his recovery is expected to take several months. In the meantime, Fine has been handed the keys to the franchise and will be allowed to grow into the role.

The Argonauts rank first in the CFL in takeaways, averaging 3.6 per game. The club recently made life miserable for B.C. quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., intercepting him six times en route to handing the Lions their only loss of the season. Despite the challenge ahead of him, it’s clear that Fine has the confidence of his teammates.

“Mason can go out there and sling the ball and play his game,” said running back Jamal Morrow. “Besides the picks, which happen, he played a great game. We’re confident in Mason to go out there and just sling it and get the offence going.”

The North Texas product is now in his third season with the Riders and has thrown for 1,160 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions over 24 games. He has made three starts, each of which has resulted in losses.

Saskatchewan will dress former NFL quarterback Jake Dolegala in the backup role behind Fine on Saturday, though it appears unlikely we’ll see him anytime soon based on Dickenson’s comments. Shea Patterson, the team’s short-yardage quarterback, will dress as the third-string passer.

The Riders (3-3) will play the Argos (5-0) at Huskies Stadium at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax on Saturday, July 29 with kickoff slated for 4:00 p.m. EDT.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.