With the 2023 Canadian Football League on the horizon, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are ready to put the disappointing 2022 campaign in the rearview mirror.
The offensive line faced a lion’s share of the criticism during the off-season after the green and white allowed a league-high 77 sacks last year.
One of the holdovers from 2022, guard Evan Johnson is ready for a fresh start.
“It’s all I’ve been thinking about all off-season, I want to wipe the page from last year, haven’t thought about it recently, we’re all in 2023.”
After last season, General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations Jeremy O’Day and Head Coach Craig Dickenson said the offensive line would be a focus for the team in the off-season. The Roughriders made good on their promise with the additions of Philip Blake, Peter Godber, and Eric Lofton during the initial days of free agency. Saskatchewan also signed Jerald Hawkins, a former fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Johnson is the most experienced offensive lineman returning to the squad from last year’s team, but thinks the extra veteran presence that the Roughriders added will provide the team with a big boost.
“We’ve got Philip Blake who’s been around for a long time, seen a lot of football too, and (Peter) Godber, he’s played a lot of years too. I mean, I might be the oldest returning, but we got a lot of veteran presence regardless.”
Another returnee to the Roughriders offensive line from last season is Logan Ferland, who was named Saskatchewan’s top offensive lineman in 2022. Johnson believes the Melfort product has a bright future.
“I was training with him in the off-season too, he’s strong, he’s committed and he’s does the right thing.”
During training camp, the Roughriders have been working with Blake, Ferland and Johnson all taking snaps with the first-string offence at the two guard positions. The former University of Saskatchewan Huskie says the team has been moving the pieces around during camp as they try and find the mixture for the team’s offensive line.
“We’ve been shifting the tackles left to right, guards left to right, we’ve been bumping guys in at centre, out of centre, so we’ve been really playing around with our positions.”
The Regina product says the offensive line has been working on chemistry and communication.
“I feel like we’re at really good place right now, we’re seeing a lot of different looks from our defence, different fronts, we’re able to identify and communicate them across the line, so training camp has been really good with those relationships and communication, so we’re looking to build off of that.”
Saturday will offer the Roughriders first opportunity for live game action when they host the BC Lions at Mosaic Stadium in their first preseason game. Dickenson says the exhibition games will go a long way to determining which offensive linemen will make the team out of training camp.
“We’re evaluating them on a daily basis, I think they’re getting better on a daily basis, but to see really who’s going to stand out and play well, we’re going to have to start with that game on Saturday.”
Before Johnson returns to his hometown of Regina for the regular season, he will spend more time at his old stomping grounds at Griffiths Stadium. For the former Huskie, it’s always great to be back in Saskatoon.
“The memories come flooding back, you know there’s a lot of good times that I’ve spent here, a lot of games, a lot of football, lots of memories so it’s great to be back.”
Coverage for Saturday’s matchup between the Riders and the Lions begins at 2:00 on 620 CKRM, with the opening kickoff at 5:00.
Training Camp Day 11 Notebook
– Defensive back Amari Henderson continued his strong training camp with an interception during the team passing drills. Dickenson says Henderson is one of those players that plays “above their weight.”
– It was fitting Wednesday’s soundtrack at Griffiths Stadium featured ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” with the early morning activity in the sky. The thunder and lightning held off during the practice, but the rain remained throughout most of the Riders morning session. Despite the moisture, Dickenson was happy that it rained, as it broke up the mundane routine with the team amid their second week in camp.