Injuries to Durant, LaBatte, Chambers and Cox could add to Riders' issues

Injuries to Durant, LaBatte, Chambers and Cox could add to Riders' issues

The Saskatchewan Roughriders' 40-27 loss to the B.C. Lions Saturday night to fall to 0-3 would be concerning enough in its own right, but it gets even more worrisome when you throw in the injuries. Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant, offensive guard Brendon LaBatte, wide receiver Shamawd Chambers and cornerback Justin Cox all left the game with injuries, and while the severity of any of those wasn't known Sunday morning, they all have the potential to drag this team down further if serious. Even if the Riders do get all of those players back quickly, though, Saturday's loss shows they still have plenty of issues to address.

One of the biggest concerns going forward will be the health of Durant and what that means for the Saskatchewan passing offence. Durant was effective while he played Saturday, completing seven of 10 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, but then left the game early in the second quarter shortly after taking a low hit from B.C. defensive lineman Mic'hael Brooks, and stood on crutches on the sideline. He did tweet after the game that X-rays came out negative:

So, that's a good sign, but it doesn't necessarily mean Durant will be ready to return for the Riders' next game (they host Ottawa next Friday), as there are plenty of significant injuries that wouldn't show up on a X-ray. Saskatchewan fans will certainly be hoping he can, though, as Durant looks much more set to lead this offence than anyone else. On the season, he's completed 65 of his 96 passing attempts (67.7 per cent) for 731 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. That's more good than great (except for the touchdowns to interceptions, which is outstanding), but it's well beyond what the Riders can probably expect from anyone else right now. Durant's replacement Saturday was Mitchell Gale, which speaks volumes in its own right, as Gale only came to Saskatchewan in the Shawn Lemon trade earlier this month. The Riders' other quarterbacks on the roster are G.J. Kinne, who signed with them in June after being cut by Calgary, and Jake Waters, who they picked up in a July 9 trade with Hamilton. Neither has ever thrown a regular-season CFL pass.

Gale was okay in relief of Durant Saturday, but far from spectacular. He threw for 247 yards and a touchdown, but completed just 17 of his 30 passes (56.7 per cent), and while he found some early success (he took over with Saskatchewan leading 10-7 and extended the lead to 23-10 by the half), it was downhill from there. Gale couldn't move the chains consistently in the third and fourth quarters, and Saskatchewan scored just four points in the final two frames. Granted, he may get better with more time in the Riders' offence and more familiarity with his receivers (he did show good chemistry with Naaman Roosevelt Saturday, connecting with him on eight passes for 132 yards), and he does at least have significant CFL experience (he's been in the league since 2013, mostly with Toronto but with a brief stint with Hamilton in 2015), but for now at least, going from Durant to Gale would look like a significant downgrade.

That's a downgrade Saskatchewan really can't afford, given that they haven't been able to win games despite the solid play of Durant. Their defence is still very much a work in progress (adding further rebuttal to the anonymous CFL coach's claims this week that Chris Jones' departure was behind Edmonton's defensive downturn; Jones, now the Riders' head coach and GM, is certainly a smart defensive mind, but scheme alone can only do so much, especially when players are still adjusting to it), and B.C.'s Jon Jennings took them apart for 429 passing yards and three touchdowns Saturday. They also were vulnerable on the ground; Lions' RB Anthony Allen (a former Rider) picked up 61 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and Jennings added 30 yards and a rushing touchdown on five scrambles. There's a lot of work to do on that side of the ball, and the offence will need to be productive for this team to have any chance of winning games quickly.

That offensive production doesn't depend just on Durant, either, as the injuries to LaBatte and Chambers could also be exceptionally costly. LaBatte has long been one of the best-regarded linemen in this league, and Chambers is an excellent receiver with a lot of big-play potential. Both are Canadian, too, so losing them for any length of time could be a significant blow to the Riders' depth and might force them to juggle their ratio around. Losing Cox could be bad, too, as the Saskatchewan defence has had plenty of problems already, and those could get even worse if they have to start throwing in replacements. We'll see how the injury news works out, but these are all certainly problematic injuries for the Riders, and ones that might be even worse for them in the long term than Saturday's loss.