Riders coach/GM Chris Jones continues to use quarterback rotation

The Canadian Press
Riders coach/GM Chris Jones continues to use quarterback rotation
Riders coach/GM Chris Jones continues to use quarterback rotation

TORONTO — Chris Jones is again taking a unique approach to keeping the Saskatchewan Roughriders relevant in the ultra-competitive West Division.

The Riders' head coach/GM has shuffled his quarterbacks on consecutive games, rotating Canadian starter Brandon Bridge with backup David Watford. Despite the lack of continuity under centre, Saskatchewan (2-2) has split those contests and remains tied for second in the West with Edmonton and Winnipeg, two points behind front-running Calgary (3-0).

Zach Collaros opened the season as Saskatchewan's starter. But he suffered a concussion in a 40-17 loss to Ottawa on June 21 and remains on the six-game injured list.

Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., started both games but was replaced by Watford each time. The duo was a combined 18-of-40 passing for 219 yards with a TD and four interceptions in Saskatchewan's 23-17 loss to Montreal on June 30.

Bridge and Watford completed 14-of-19 passes for 148 yards in Saskatchewan's 18-13 home victory over Hamilton on Thursday night. Marcus Thigpen's 34-yard TD run with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter put the Riders ahead for good.

The quarterback shuffle is nothing new for Jones. Last year, he often replaced veteran starter Kevin Glenn with Bridge as an effective change-of-pace move.

That made some sense given the five-foot-10, 203-pound Glenn, 39, was more of a pocket passer while the six-foot-five, 230-pound Bridge, 26, presented defences with a dual threat. But what's curious now is Bridge and the six-foot-two, 212-pound Watford are very similar players.

Against Montreal, Watford was 10-of-22 passing for 108 yards with a TD and two interceptions while rushing for 21 yards on five carries. He completed 3-of-6 passes for 47 yards versus Hamilton while running for a team-high 50 yards on seven carries.

While Jones managed to record the win against Hamilton, there's definitely an argument to be made that his quarterback situation remains as clear as mud. The continual shuffling fails to allow either play to develop confidence while the offence as a whole doesn't establish any sort of continuity.

The Riders are on a bye week and don't resume their season until July 19 when they visit Hamilton. But the harsh reality is Saskatchewan has to continue winning to just keep pace in the West, let alone establish itself in the divisional standings.

And the quarterback carousel can't help an offence that's ranked seventh in passing (205.3 yards per game) and scoring (19.8 points), sixth in rushing (103.8 yards) and last overall in completion percentage (57.8) and rushing TDs (one).

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ATTENDANCE WOES: James Franklin led Toronto to a 20-17 home win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday night. Trouble is, not many people noticed.

The game attracted just 12,196 spectators to BMO Field after 16,450 fans watched Toronto (1-2) drop a 41-7 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in its home opener June 23.

BMO Field has a seating capacity of about 26,500 for football but that's been reduced to 18,000 with the temporary closing of the upper-east balcony.

Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment purchased the Argos in January but faces a big challenge rebuilding a franchise that averaged under 14,000 spectators last season.

However, the Argos weren't the only CFL team to struggle at the turnstiles last week. Only 16,718 spectators watched the Montreal Alouettes drop a 28-18 decision to the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night.

That's after Montreal drew 19,498 fans to its home opener, a 56-10 loss to Winnipeg on June 22.

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REDUCED WEEK: There's only three games this week with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes all having byes.

The Calgary Stampeders (3-0), coming off a bye, visit the Ottawa Redblacks (2-1) on Thursday night before the Edmonton Eskimos (2-2) entertain the Toronto Argonauts (1-2) to complete a home-and-home set.

Then on Saturday night, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-2) visit the B.C. Lions (1-2) to cap another home-and-home series.

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REILLY VS. ARGOS: There's something about facing the Toronto Argonauts that doesn't agree with Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly.

Reilly is 2-6 as a starter versus Toronto after Edmonton's 20-17 road loss to the Argos on Saturday night. But the CFL's outstanding player last season is a combined 17-8 versus the remainder of the East Division (7-2 against Montreal, 6-4 versus Hamilton, 4-2 versus Ottawa).

The only other CFL team Reilly has a losing record against is Calgary (3-9). Reilly is even 1-0 against Edmonton, earning that victory while with the B.C. Lions.

Starter James Franklin earned the victory in his Toronto debut against his former team. Ironically, both of Franklin's two previous wins as a starter came with Edmonton against the Argos.

THIS 'N THAT: When Hamilton resumes its season July 19 versus Saskatchewan, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will look to register a CFL-record 10th straight 300-yard passing performance. Masolo threw for 333 yards in the Ticats' 18-13 loss Thursday night to the Riders to tie Sam Etcheverry and Kent Austin for the league mark . . . Reilly still leads the CFL in passing (1,390 yards) and TDs (seven) but his five interceptions are also tops among starters.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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