Riders retaining Mason Fine ‘clear’ choice, Corey Mace expects backup QB ‘battle’

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The 2024 offseason has been all about turning over a new leaf for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but the new regime surprised many when it backtracked at backup quarterback.

Few expected Mason Fine to return to the fold after he lost his job to Jake Dolegala in 2023. However, with both players on expiring contracts, Fine was re-signed for next year while the man who beat him out was allowed to walk in free agency.

While the decision proved controversial among the fans, new head coach Corey Mace believes the choice to keep Fine was obvious.

“There are certain things that we look for, how you want the offensive run and how you want to read out defences and different intangibles like that. That’s more important for us for an efficient offence,” Mace told reporters earlier this month. “As we went through the checklist, it was clear for us who the guy that we wanted to roll with was.”

Fine entered 2023 as the Riders’ second-stringer, taking over the top job after veteran Trevor Harris went down with a season-ending injury in Week 6. He made four starts and finished the year having completed 94-of-136 passes (69.1 percent) for 1,043 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Dolegala stepped in to finish Week 10 after Fine suffered a pulled hamstring and never relinquished starting duties, going 216-of-333 (64.8 percent) for 2,641 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions down the stretch. Despite solid numbers from the six-foot-seven pivot, the Riders lost seven straight games to end the year and missed the playoffs for a second straight season

With Craig Dickenson and his staff casualties of those failures, general manager Jeremy O’Day wiped the slate clean and re-evaluated the two pending free agents using the requirements of the team’s new offensive system.

“It was more of a collective decision where we all sat in the same room — Coach (Mace) and Marc (Mueller) and myself and Kyle Carson — and evaluated the quarterbacks,” he explained. “At the end of that, we wanted to come to a conclusion as to who the quarterback we thought was the best to move forward with to come in and compete for the backup position.”

“When we came out of it, we decided we were going to go with Mason and that’s when we started the conversation with him to get him back and re-signed.”

While Fine earned the chance for a fourth season in Saskatchewan, those offseason personnel meetings only deemed him a better fit for the system than Dolegala. There are no guarantees that the 26-year-old will be the team’s second-stringer next season.

“We still have other quarterbacks that are on the roster or just signed who are going to be in the battle and in the mix. It’s a fresh pair of eyes on everybody and we’ve let those guys know that,” Mace said. “Obviously, we want Trevor to be the guy but you’ve got to win today and you’ve got to win in the future. I think everybody’s in the right spot, in the right position, with a clean slate both from the football side of it, in the office and on the field.”

Short-yardage options Shea Patterson and Antonio Pipkin will both be returning alongside Fine and Harris, while Saskatchewan also made a splash with the signing of former Notre Dame standout Jack Coan. All are in contention for the number two job, which will have long-term implications for the future of the franchise.

With the soon-to-be 38-year-old Harris now taking his career one season at a time and coming off a major injury, creating a succession has never been more important.

“Knowing the fact that we’re going to bring in guys to compete, that’s what we’re looking for. What’s the plan after Trevor? Because you have to have the next one at that position,” O’Day said. “Hopefully that irons its way out but it’s something that we are focused on.”

The Riders will open their 2024 regular season on Saturday, June 8 when they visit the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium.

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.