Riders to lean on Nick Marshall, veteran DBs on defence
With more than 600 days between games, there will be a lot of unknowns during Friday night’s match-up between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and B.C. Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
With plenty of changes on the Lions, the Riders’ defence doesn’t have much film to work off due to the Canadian Football League eschewing preseason games this year.
Defensive back Nick Marshall said the Riders taking care of their individual games will key for the Riders.
"They’ve got new receivers, they’ve got a new offensive coordinator, so you really just got to go into game one just really working on yourself," he said. "Make sure you do all the little things right."
Key players from the 2019 edition of the defence, like Charleston Hughes, Solomon Elimimian and Cameron Judge, moved on during the extend break due to COVID-19.
Despite those losses, the Riders return a strong group of defensive backs, which will be led by Marshall, who blossomed into a star during his first two seasons with Saskatchewan.
"That’s important because I think that’s the toughest position to play in the CFL is the back end secondary," Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said. "Anytime you got veteran guys like Loucheiz Purifoy, Nick Marshall, Mike Etem, Ed Gainey, that’s a pretty, pretty experienced group."
Dickenson said the defence battled injuries during training camp, but he has strong expectations them.
"It’s a different group that’s going to play on Friday than we saw on paper in the offseason, but it’s going to be a good group, it’s going to be a group that plays hard and flies around," he said.
The Riders’ veterans will lead the way, but the team will need some rookies to step up as well.
A.J Hendy is expected to start at linebacker this week in his first CFL game.
He said the past month has been a whirlwind.
"It's been a lot of learning, but I'm excited for the opportunity," Hendy said.
The Maryland product spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Texans in the NFL.
"I'm a rookie here, but I played a lot of football, so just go back to my train and stay true, play fast and do my job, and I’ll be fine," he said.
Mike Reilly, the Lions’ veteran quarterback, hasn’t practiced all week for B.C., but Marshall said whether he plays or not won’t effect how the Riders’ defence prepares.
"Whoever they put out now we just do got to worry about us and get our job done at the end of the day," he said.
While Marshall’s defensive prowess will be a key piece of the Rider defence, the 29-year-old may also be called on offensively.
A rule change this season will allow teams to only dress quarterbacks for games.
Marshall, who played QB in college will be the team’s emergency quarterback if something were to happen to
Cody Fajardo and Isaac Harker during the game.
"I’ll always be prepared for that situation," Marshall said. "If they need me for that then I’ll be ready to do it."
Marshall scored seven rushing touchdowns as a short yardage quarterback during his rookie season with Saskatchewan.
Coach Dickenson said the Riders have explored using him again in that role, but plan to keep Fajardo on the field in those situations.
"We feel like we're most effective when the guy that's in on second down, if it's third and short, he stays in the game," he said. "We do have Nick if we need him."
The Riders host the Lions on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.