As the 2023 Canadian Football League (CFL) season approached, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive line was anticipated to be the team’s strongest asset.
The quality of the unit was on display in the team’s first win of the season over the Edmonton Elks, with the green and white pass rush amassing five sacks and limiting Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius to 14 yards rushing.
On Saturday, the quantity of the group will be tested when the Roughriders travel to Calgary to meet the Stampeders.
During last Friday’s loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the injury bug hit the Roughriders, especially with the defensive line. This week at practice, Anthony Lanier, Demarcus Christmas and Nic Dheilly missed the first two days. 2023 First-Round pick Lake Korte-Moore missed Tuesday’s practice before returning on Wednesday in a limited role.
Head Coach Craig Dickenson is confident in the defensive line’s depth heading into the showdown with the Stampeders.
“We’ve got good players and next man up, it’s what our philosophy has been all year and it will be tested as well.”
After practice, there was some good news on the injury front as Lanier was listed without an injury designation, meaning that he should play this week against the Stampeders. However, the news wasn’t all good as Christmas will be out of Saturday’s week with a knee injury and Dheilly has been listed out with a head injury.
Some of the players that may see an increased role this week for the Roughriders include Bryan Cox Jr. and Charbel Dabire.
The last two games marked the return to the gridiron for Cox Jr. after a long absence from the playing field. The former Florida Gator last played with the Buffalo Bills in 2020. In 2021, he tore his Achilles which ended his season prematurely. After a brief stint with the Indianapolis Colts in 2022, the St. Louis, Missouri product signed with the Roughriders last month.
Cox Jr. has been happy to be back on the field in Saskatchewan.
“It feels good, I wouldn’t want it any other way, back out here, enjoying the moment, soaking it all in.”
With plenty of veteran defensive linemen returning to the Roughriders, Cox Jr. felt he earned a spot on the roster in training camp.
“It was definitely a grind to crack the lineup. ”
Dabire was one of the veteran linemen that battled alongside Cox Jr. during training camp. With the 26-year-old entering his fourth season with the Roughriders, he almost finds it hard to believe that he has now become a mainstay on the Saskatchewan roster.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been moving every year, two years, because of my parents jobs, it feels nice, feels like I’ve built a thing with the community, built that connection, feels like home every time I come back here, I could see myself living here.”
During his time in Saskatchewan, Dabire feels he has grown as a player.
“It’s just been nice soaking everything up and now being in that veteran presence and being to teach some young guys the same things that I was taught when I was coming in, so it feel nice, a different shift, taking it on as a new task.”
One of the anchors of the Roughriders defensive line has been Micah Johnson. On Thursday, the two-time Grey Cup Champion celebrated his 35th birthday.
A three-time CFL all-star, Johnson is someone Cox Jr. holds in high regard.
“He’s the O.G. in the room, always the voice of reason, definitely tries to get us young guys going when we need to be get going.”
After spending time with Johnson during his rookie season, Dabire is happy to have the six-time CFL Western All-Star as a teammate once again.
“A humble guy, he doesn’t like being that center of attention, he’ll help you out when he thinks you need help, you can always come up to him ask him some things, but he’s just a great guy to be around, great friend.”
With the chance of more playing time this week against the Stampeders, Cox Jr. says he always carries a starter’s mentality.
“I’m always preparing like a starter, regardless of my role that week I just try to prepare myself to get the maximum amount of snaps because you never know how each is going to go, yeah I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”
- Along with Lanier, defensive back Rolan Milligan was another key veteran who returned to practice on Thursday.
- It looks like Derrick Moncrief is on track to make his season debut for Saskatchewan as he doesn’t have an injury designation ahead of Saturday’s game and Nic Marshall should return to cornerback after missing last Friday’s game against Winnipeg.
- Dickenson will have to make a decision at punter with no injury designation for Kaare Vedvik who missed the first two games with a hip injury. Australian Adam Korsak handled the punting duties for the green and white during the first two games.
- Safety Jayden Dalke will be out this week with a back injury, Dickenson said Nelson Lokombo will take Dalke’s spot at safety with Jaxon Ford possibly figuring into the equation. Other players that will be out this week against the Stampeders are running back Frankie Hickson, wide receiver Juwan Brescacin, fullback Albert Awachie and defensive back Rodney Clemons.
- Centre Peter Godber has been listed as questionable due to an illness