REGINA — Jordan Williams-Lambert is hoping to pick up where he left off with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Williams-Lambert, the CFL's West Division most outstanding rookie in 2018, makes his return to the Riders lineup Saturday after an attempt to earn a roster spot with the NFL's Chicago Bears.
The receiver signed a contract extension with the Riders (9-4) on Sept. 10 and will make his 2019 CFL debut on Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (9-5).
"I want to contribute, make plays when they come to me, do the right thing and try to help the team win," said Williams-Lambert, who caught 62 passes for 764 yards and four touchdowns last season. "That's the main goal. If we win, that's what matters."
Given his success last season, expectations are high for Williams-Lambert. Yet his biggest concern about stepping into the lineup at this point of the season is not impacting the Riders' current success.
"One of the things he first said when he came in here was, ‘I don't want to mess up a good thing. You guys have a good thing going. I just want to help you guys.' When you get a guy with that mentality who understands the team-first aspect, the sky is the limit," said Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo. "I'm excited to see what I saw from him last year — going up and get the ball, make big plays, yards after the catch, getting the tough yards. Getting him in the lineup will be beneficial for us."
Moving Williams-Lambert into the starting lineup — joining receivers Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, Namaan Roosevelt and Cory Watson — slides veteran Manny Arceneaux into a backup role. Arceneaux, who has 20 receptions for 235 yards and one touchdown in nine games in his first season with the Riders, understands the reasoning for the demotion but he's committed to contributing in whatever way he can to help his team.
"When you look at it, the competitive side of football starts in training camp and we're well past that moment now so it's pretty much set in stone the guys they want to run with and roll with . . . That's kind of the situation I fell into with an athlete who had success with the club last year and they already had their pieces at receiver," said Arceneaux, who had a 55-yard touchdown reception in a 41-16 victory over the Toronto Argonauts last week.
"I didn't do training camp (he was recovering from a knee injury last year) and sat out the first part of the season. But when it was my turn I made the most of my opportunities, so it was just a numbers game.
"With me being a veteran, it doesn't bother me because I understand the situation, that it's a business. Being in a role where people are looking up to me, I can't show any kind of discomfort or that nasty taste in my mouth. When I walk through those doors, it's me being a pro, on and off the field."
Saturday's game is the last of three regular-season contests between the Riders and Bombers. The Riders won the Labour Day classic 19-17 on Sept. 1 with the Bombers winning the Banjo Bowl 35-10 on Sept. 7.
With the Riders, Bombers and Calgary Stampeders entering play Saturday with nine victories each, every game is important.
Riders head coach Craig Dickenson acknowledged the significance of beating the Bombers on Saturday. The winner gets the tiebreaker.
"We don't want to go there in the playoffs, that's a tough place to play," said Dickenson. "We know it's important do well in this game and hopefully come out on top because Winnipeg is a tough place to play, especially in the fall."
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (9-5) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (9-4)
Saturday, Mosaic Stadium
STARTING NUMBERS: Among all quarterbacks who have started their first CFL game as a Rider, Cody Fajardo has the best record after 12 starts at 9-3. Darian Durant and Glen Dobbs posted records of 8-4 in their first 12 starts. With 3,170 passing yards, Fajardo is the first Riders quarterback to ever make his debut start and then throw for 3,000 yards or more in that season.
SACK ATTACK: Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson, who has 11 sacks on the season, has gone two games without a sack. Riders defensive end Charleston Hughes leads the CFL this season with 15 sacks.
OFF AND RUNNING: Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler has scored 12 touchdowns this season, which is a franchise record for Winnipeg. The CFL record for most touchdowns in a season by a quarterback is 14, shared by Doug Flutie (1991) and James Franklin (2018).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2019.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press