Saskatchewan Roughriders Assistant V.P. of Player Personnel John Murphy spent Canadian Thanksgiving as a guest on 620 CKRM’s SportsCage on Monday.
His club has won six of its last eight games to stand at 8-6 and sits in third place in the CFL West Division with four games remaining. Saskatchewan is coming off road wins at Ottawa (18-17) and Toronto (27-24) and now gets set to host the Ottawa RedBlacks (6-9-1) this Friday night at Mosaic Stadium.
Murphy pointed out that it was Thanksgiving weekend last year in which the club was officially eliminated from playoff contention.
“If it says anything to you, it shows you – a calendar year later – where the process is at,” Murphy explained. “It’s not exactly where we want to be but it’s closer to what we’re hoping for. Now we’ve got three out of the remaining four games at home. The main thing is knowing how our games with Ottawa have played out the past two years. It’s three games that have been decided by 7-10 points.
“We can’t really slow down or look back at we’ve accomplished,” Murphy offered. “We have to keep concentrating on the fact that Friday’s another two big points after being away for a few weeks. Having not performed well at home prior to that (a 15-9 loss to Calgary), we want to set the mindset that we’ve played well at home all year – with some great offensive performancs – and we want to get back to that.”
The Long Island, NY product emphasized the fact that the team is not satisfied with anything yet. They sit two wins behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-4) and will battle the rest of the way to finish second and clinch homefield in the Western Semifinal.
“Still, as realistic or unrealistic as it is, there’s still a very good opportunity to push Winnipeg to the brink of having to win all their remaining games if we continue to win ours,” Murphy proclaimed.
Still, the Riders have forged an impressive road and overcome a lot of adversity the past two weeks. Both of their top two quarterbacks won games and the club overcame a handful of injuries to earn four valuable points on the road.
“The injuries that we had both last year and throughout this year, being able to get some guys playing time that they received early, we were able to cover injuries to the backend,” Murphy said. “Getting a big physical kid like Rakim Cox helped create a little bit of a different look against a Toronto team that wanted to run the ball between the tackles. There was a little bit of improvement there last week.
“I think the tackling needs to improve at the point of attack. We’ve got to be able to improve those plays at – or behind – the line of scrimmage. James Wilder and Ricky Ray for Toronto were able to make some plays by getting out of harm’s way and getting first downs. Little areas like that can improve, but you can see when guys got to sub in, they played well and fast. Christion Jones has come back and played great, and you can see what Naaman Roosevelt means to our offense. It’s very difficult for teams to key on somebody when you have four or five different quality weapons like that.”
The CFL Trade Deadline looms on Wednesday and we asked Murphy if his team figures to be active over the next 24-48 hours.
“We expect to be active everyday,” Murphy advised. “I don’t think the trade deadline aspect changes much for us. If there’s something we can do to improve our football team, short term or long term, we’ll examine every opportunity. If it doesn’t, I feel we have more than enough here to compete at as high of a level as we want to the rest of the season. But I do think you have to look at everything.”
That may or may not include Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros. The high-priced pivot has watched from the bench the past several weeks while Jeremiah Massoli has gone out and won games.
We asked Murphy if he expects there to be a market for Collaros’s services.
“I think there’s a very good person who can answer that and he lives out in Hamilton,” Murphy chuckled, referring to Ticats V.P. of Football Kent Austin.
The Riders return to the field on Tuesday with a closed practice at Mosaic Stadium.