On Saturday evening, Aug. 13, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will play the Elks in Edmonton. Coming off a bye week, the Riders can expect some injured players back and the rest of the team to be as healthy as they are going to be this season.
It is hard to know who they will be facing on the field as Elks Head Coach Chris Jones has already made 83 roster moves this season. The chaos in Edmonton took me back to 2016, Jones’ first season in Saskatchewan.
Jones barreled into Saskatchewan eager to re-make the Riders. It was a long, long season.
Jones did have Darian Durant at quarterback. While injured for part of the season Durant started 15 games and played competently.
This year Jones has already cycled through Nick Arbuckle, Tre Ford and Taylor Cornelius at quarterback. Ford has potential but is out with a collarbone injury. Last week he was put on the six-game injury list so the Riders can expect to see Cornelius starting for the Elks. Watching him against the Lions on Saturday night Cornelius had flashes but was inconsistent. Too many passes were inaccurate.
What bedeviled the Riders in 2016 was the defence. They were last in the West giving up 530 points. Over 18 games the Riders gave up an average of 29 points per game.
The 2022 Elks might be glad to give up 29 points per game. After eight games they have given up 290 points, an average of 36 points per game. They are on pace to surrender 648 points in 2022.
In 2016 it took nine games for Jones to get a competitive defence on the field. In the Riders ninth game they lost 53-7 to the Tiger Cats. Over the next seven games they kept the Riders in every game. Only in the last two games against the Lions, when there was little consequence, did they falter. During that seven game stretch the Riders did win a pair of overtime games.
In 2022 I have yet to see where the Elks defence is about to become competitive. Their best game was two weeks ago against the Blue Bombers when they gave up 24 points. In their other two games in the last months against West opponents they gave up 49 to the Stampeders and 46 to the Lions. Had the Lions not eased up I expect they would have equaled the 59 points they scored in their first game versus the Elks.
What I saw on Saturday night, Aug. 6, was an inability by the Elks to get any pressure from four rushers and little pressure when they blitzed. Nathan Rourke could scan the field all night.
While not always revealing, the Elks have only 11 sacks in eight games. Of course, four of those sacks came against the Riders who are the worst in the league giving up 29 sacks.
I expect the game will be decided between the worst pass rushing front seven and the worst pass blocking offensive line.
It was during August of 2016 that Jones got into significant trouble with the league over the Riders engaging in roster violations. There were issues over ineligible players practising, players on the six-game injury list practising and free agent players paractising with contracted players. The Riders were significantly fined and had their salary cap adjusted. Jones was hardly repentant. He accepted the league decision but there was no regret.
I doubt Jones listens to anyone but himself. By the end of 2016 he had assembled the core of the team that would go 10-8 in 2017. After 8 games in 2022 he has further to go than he did in 2016 at the same point in the season. The Riders started 1-7 in 2016 on their way to a 5-13 season. The 2022 Elks are marginally better at 2-6. I am sure he remains certain he is on the right course this year.
Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.