‘He’s instilled a belief that we can beat anybody’: Riders’ Trevor Harris impressed with play of QB Jake Dolegala

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Saskatchewan Roughriders’ franchise quarterback Trevor Harris is still a ways away from any potential late-season return, but he has been impressed with the play of the team’s backups during his extended absence.

“I think the mark of quarterbacks a lot of times is when the lights get bright, are you going to be able to make the throws?” Harris told the Regina media on Wednesday in his first address since the injury. “I think Jake (Dolegala) has done a good job with that, as well as Mason (Fine). I think with either one of those guys out there, we’re in good hands.”

The 37-year-old signal-caller suffered a tibial plateau fracture during the Riders’ Week 6 loss to Calgary and was replaced by Fine, who threw a pair of touchdowns in relief. The third-year pro went on to complete 93-of-134 passes for 1,024 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions over four starts before he too was forced to the six-game injured list.

Third-stringer Jake Dolegala came off the bench in a blowout loss to the Alouettes in Week 10 and initially struggled before notching back-to-back upset wins over the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“I thought Mason really settled in and did a good job. And then, unfortunately, as he was kind of getting into a nice rhythm, he yanked his hamstring a little bit. Jake has come in and didn’t do so well in the Montreal game but he beat the best two teams in the West at home, which is gigantic,” Harris said.

The team’s winning streak came to a decisive end in last week’s Banjo Bowl, as Winnipeg exacted revenge with a 51-6 beatdown. However, Dolegala’s play was not at fault for the loss and the 26-year-old NFL journeyman seems to have imbued the team with a new confidence heading into the stretch run.

“Obviously, last week was a tough one, a tough one to watch, but I think that we’re in a good place and I think Jake has done a great job,” Harris continued. “I think he’s earned the right for him to keep playing and he’s instilled a belief that we can beat anybody. I think he’s done a good job in terms of managing football games, taking what the defence gives him and making some big-time throws in big-time situations.”

In seven games this season, including three starts, Dolegala has connected on 70-of-114 passes for 885 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. That efficiency is a far cry from his lone start a year ago, where he completed just 45.7 percent of his passes for 154 yards, a touchdown, and two picks.

“I feel like he’s done a good job of recognizing pre-snap coverage and I feel like he knows where he wants to go with the ball and he’s developing a plan,” Harris noted. “I think a lot of times when you watch young quarterbacks, you can see their eyes move right and left. Busy eyes are not good eyes and you can see his eyes have gotten more and more calm.”

“He has that sort of personality trait where there’s really no moment too big for Jake. I don’t know if you guys know, but he’s probably the best golfer ever. He’s amazing and so he’s able to kind of keep his cool in those bigger moments.”

That steady hand has the Riders at .500 with six games remaining in the season and controlling their own destiny in the battle for third place in the West Division. Harris is expected to begin field work in two weeks and the team has not ruled out a potential return if they make the playoffs, but there is no need to rush back given Dolegala’s play.

Harris will continue to serve in an advisory role for the rest of the team’s young quarterbacks as he rehabs, though he admits that job may not be as substantial as most would expect. For the most part, it has been the acting starter — first Fine, then Dolegala — running their daily film sessions.

“If Jake needs help, he’ll ask,” Harris explained. “There are certain things when we’re going through the install, I’ll mention and say, ‘Hey, should we do this with the protection? Would this help you out if we did this? Could we clear a backer or move a safety if we did this?’ Just small things like that, but I’m more there to help him out.”

“I’m not gonna be the dad and put my arm around him but if he ever needs me, he knows I’m here. I check in with him every week to ask him if there’s anything he wants me to do or anything I can do to help him out.”

The Riders (6-6) return to action on Friday, September 15 at 9:30 p.m. EDT when they host the Edmonton Elks (3-10).

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.