Opinion: Shea Patterson deserves legitimate shot to become Riders’ backup QB

Courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

After two preseason games, there’s every reason to think Shea Patterson has a legitimate shot to win the number two quarterback spot in Riderville.

It would be a surprising development for a Roughrider squad that pencilled in Mason Fine as its backup to the face of the franchise and main triggerman, Trevor Harris. But Fine hasn’t impressed all that much in limited CFL reps over his first three years in Saskatchewan.

Fan and media consensus coming out of training camp in 2023 suggested he was outplayed by Jake Dolegala in that preseason and the regular season comparison appeared to bear that out too. In fact, aside from a thrilling hail-mary touchdown pass in the Calgary game that ended Trevor Harris’ season and an entertaining home-field win over Ottawa that should’ve been automatic anyway, his time under centre was lacklustre at best.

Patterson, meanwhile, hasn’t done much either in the pros but gained notoriety for being the USFL 2.0’s first-ever first-overall draft choice and a capable short-yardage guy in the CFL. Other than that, he hasn’t seen the field much at all.

Preseason isn’t everything but Patterson pieced together back-to-back scoring drives in the Riders exhibition win over Winnipeg. He followed that up by going five-of-eight for 80 yards against Edmonton, adding 11 yards on the ground.

Due to a nagging injury, Fine didn’t last long enough in the first game to even post a passing stat, which opened the door at least a crack for his competition. He played most of the first half on Saturday, connecting on nine-of-11 attempts for 75 yards and a touchdown.

At the age of 27, both players are fully developed and running out of time. Where the case for Shea Patterson over Mason Fine becomes most interesting is when we look at the upside.

While Fine fought his way into the starter’s role with the little-known University of North Texas Mean Green, Patterson was making the fans at the much higher calibre Ole Miss forget all about Chad Kelly. Then he slid over to the even higher-calibre Michigan Wolverines, where he went on to out-pass alumni Jim Harbaugh and Tom Brady.

Patterson proved himself in the college ranks much more than Fine ever did. And given both of their limited pro sample sizes, that has to matter at least a bit. It’s an indicator that maybe, just maybe, Patterson still has another gear that he hasn’t had the chance to show at the pro level yet.

The best intel on where the former Michigan QB is at today might be how he described the prospect of being a short-yardage quarterback during last year’s preseason.

“I don’t think my role would just be to keep a sneak on third-and-one,” Patterson told 3DownNation following Saskatchewan’s home preseason win over the BC Lions on May 27, 2023. “I think a fair evaluation is probably like a full half of play. It’s all about consistency.”

A year later, his words remain relevant. Head coach Corey Mace vocal commitment to equal playtime for all his quarterbacks has denied Patterson the full half he desired, but he’s stated his claim to the backup job nonetheless. In the eyes of many, he’s won it outright.

Were the Riders interested in a real competition for their backup quarterback job or was it already preordained? We’ll soon find out as the team mulls over its final cuts before the roster deadline on June 1 at midnight.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the results of Saturday’s preseason game.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.