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Can the Riders survive without Kory Sheets?

Andrew Bucholtz
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Kory Sheets will be difficult for the Riders to replace following his knee injury.

There are plenty of questions in Riderland following Saskatchewan's 31-29 home loss to Toronto Saturday, but the most crucial one may be how they plan to replace star running back Kory Sheets. Sheets, who leads the league with 1,222 rushing yards (second-place Jon Cornish is 210 back), left in the first quarter of Saturday's game with a knee injury, and the Roughriders confirmed Tuesday that he'll miss at least this Sunday's clash against the B.C. Lions. From CJME's Green Zone Football:

Sheets, the league's leading rusher, left Saturday night's loss to the Toronto Argonauts with a knee injury. After the game head coach Corey Chamblin said that he didn't think the injury was too serious, and on Tuesday he confirmed that news in a scrum with reporters.

"Guess we'll classify it as a sprained knee, or something like that," said Chamblin. "He should miss this week, but I can't tell you after that how long it should be."

After this week Chamblin believes Sheets will be day-to-day as Chamblin wouldn't say what grade of a sprain it is.

"A couple of guys had it, it's been eight days, 10 days, some have been more, depends on where it is," said Chamblin.

Rider fans should be happy that this could only knock Sheets out for a week, as this team's very dependent on his play. His dominant rushing performances have been crucial to Saskatchewan's success thus far. Heading into this past week's games, the Riders led the league with 152.4 rushing yards per game. Saturday's loss saw them collect just 27 rushing yards (Sheets had eight on four carries before he got hurt: position-shifted fullback Neal Hughes collected just 14 on six carries in relief, while quarterbacks Darian Durant and Drew Willy added five on three carries) and dropped their average to 141.0 rushing yards per game, but that's still the CFL's best total. It's tough for the Riders to win without a big game from Sheets, and that was shown the past two weeks. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers held him to 65 yards on 14 carries in their Banjo Bowl victory last week, where they won decisively despite their own anemic offence, and Saskatchewan never got their rushing offence going against Toronto, causing Darian Durant to force some throws and finish with three interceptions. This team has been using a throwback offence this year, relying on rushing much more than your typical CFL team, and it's generally worked very well. Will they be able to do that without Sheets, though?

There are a couple of options waiting in the wings, of course. It sounds like the debate as to who to start against B.C. is going to come down to former Winnipeg running back Chris Garrett, who's been with the team for a few weeks since being released by the Bombers, or longer-time Rider Jock Sanders, who has more typically been employed in a hybrid rushing/receiving role. Although both players have plenty of talent, neither is Sheets, though. We'll see if the Riders elect to revise their offence to a more traditional run/pass mix this week or if they elect to keep the same plan and see if either Garrett or Sanders can carry the load on the ground. Either way will be difficult, though. This team's been trending down over the last few weeks even with Sheets playing, and that doesn't seem likely to magically turn around in the absence of their star tailback.

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