Dennis opens up on his time in Saskatchewan

When Derek Dennis signed in Saskatchewan in 2017 he was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Lineman and a hot commodity in free agency.

Three years later he’s about to be a free agent again, with back-to-back division All Star awards in his pocket. And as he told us on the Sports Cage much more knowledge about the football world–thanks to his time with the Riders.

“I was 28 at the time and I had almost a sense of arrogance,” says Dennis. “I would say in that I thought I could go anywhere and be great, play great. And I didn’t really take into account how coaching styles may affect performance.”

Chris Jones’ style was different than what Dennis was used to. And he bristled at the change after two seasons with the Stampeders.

“When you’re in Calgary, it’s a very pro-oriented environment. It’s not like a microscope, monitoring thing. They treat you like a grown man. It’s your responsibility to lift when you need to lift and understand your body and get treatment. As long as you perform on the field anything else outside of that doesn’t matter.

“I think when I got to Sask it was more of a college-structured environment where we was told when to lift every day. The way practice was run was completely different. It was a lot of good-on-good (drills) and that was Jones’ philosophy–ones versus ones all practice. And I was coming from a place where we didn’t go ones versus ones. It was a lot of scout team and walk-throughs. A lot of studying the opposite and opponent and not practicing against your own team.

“I think what hurt me is I got into a situation that I didn’t completely agree with and it was kinda hard for me to buy in. I think that’s what my downfall was.”

There’s a certain uneasiness that comes when you start to second guess a major life decision. Dennis had just signed three-year deal with the Riders–a deal that made him the highest-paid American offensive lineman in the CFL. He found himself internalizing his troubles.

“I tried to keep to myself and I just tried to understand it,” he says. “I tried to acclimate myself to it but it just wasn’t something that I could get with. Even talking with guys that came from Calgary with me, we was just trying to figure out how we were gonna get through and help this team get to where we know it coulda been.”

And then the Riders moved him from tackle to guard after six games. It’s a move that, to observers, seems like a demotion. After all, most teams won’t play an American at guard and guards don’t often get nominated for major awards.

Dennis says he saw the move inside coming when Dan Clark got injured.

“I think when the line started doing well and they felt like things were moving a little better, they kinda just stuck with it,” he says. “But I think a narrative got created that I got demoted and I was a little upset. I felt like the coaching staff didn’t really tell people what the situation was and they just kind of let everything go.”

And then Dennis’ name somehow got attached to a fight between Duron Carter and Sam Williams. Right about then he knew his time in green was coming to an end.

“I wasn’t even there at the practice–and my name somehow got involved in it, says Dennis. “I kinda knew the writing on the wall was there that the coaching staff didn’t…it really just didn’t mesh well. And I think they was looking for ways to create a narrative to justify getting me out the door.”

And he was out the door at season’s end.

Now, three years later Dennis faces the prospect of perhaps leaving Calgary again in free agency. Stampeders President and GM John Hufnagel told Postmedia’s Danny Austin:

“We’re not in negotiations yet, we wanted to get the younger guys signed first and see how much the other guys cost,” Hufnagel said. “Derek is still in the picture, but Derek is going to be a big-ticket item. He’s made that very very clear and I have to be prepared if we’re not able to get to that number.”

That caught Dennis off guard.

“Honestly, right now I don’t really know what’s going on,” he says. “I was under the assumption that I would be back in Calgary. I thought maybe a deal would have been done early on. But, apparently what was put in the paper was that they were looking at younger guys–which I don’t understand because I don’t think I’m that old.

“I just turned 31 this past year, so I don’t feel like I’m an older player,” Dennis says. “Plus, I haven’t been playing football as long as a lot of guys. I feel like I’m still pretty young. I’m still in the prime of my playing days.”

If he does get to free agency on February 11, you would expect Dennis to get interest from a lot of teams. With how his year in Saskatchewan went in 2017, what would happen if the Riders were one of them?

“Of course I would take the call,” Dennis says with a laugh. “It’s business and I’m open to doing business.”

I just need to take my time with understanding coaching staffs and personalities and just seeing what type of offense and what offensive-minded schemes will fit to my playing style. I don’t think I really took that into consideration (in 2017).”

Hear Dennis’ wide-ranging interview with Derek Taylor through the Sports Cage on Demand.

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