Wednesday, June 3, 2015
CLARK, WATMAN IN "FRIENDLY" WAR
Rarely has there been a day the past few years where the Saskatchewan Roughriders teammates and close friends haven't engaged in some sort of light-hearted battle.
But with training camp underway, Watman and Clark are immersed in a more serious encounter. Two vacancies on the offensive line, created by the departures of centre Dominic Picard and right tackle Ben Heenan, have stoked yet another competition between the two.
"We talk a lot, we study together, we room together, we work out together,'' Watman said of his friendship with Clark. "We know it's going to be a long season and either one of us is going to play regardless.
"More than anything, we're trying to help each other get that job.''
The Riders have 14 offensive linemen - 10 Americans and four Canadians - in camp. Only a handful, including Watman and Clark and first-year Rider Gord Hinse, have CFL experience with the three appearing to be the frontrunners at centre.
Watman appeared in 14 regular-season games in 2014 and started twice at guard. Clark made 10 starts last year, splitting time at both centre and guard.
"I prepare every season the same way - I'm fighting for a starting spot,'' said Clark, a Regina native. "For the last couple of years I've had a great opportunity to show what I have to offer.
"This is my seventh training camp and maybe the stakes are a little higher for some people, but it's just the same opportunity as every other year. Maybe we do have an edge over some of the new guys because we've been here longer, but that gets evened out with the new coaching staff. There are new things being taught and there are things I need to learn just like everyone else.''
Picard was released after three seasons with Saskatchewan and signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Riders let Heenan, a two-year starter, go so he could explore NFL opportunities and he ultimately signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
Saskatchewan still has veteran experience up front but stability questions exist.
Brendon LaBatte, a three-time CFL all-star and the league's top lineman in 2013, is a lock at left guard. Fellow guard Chris Best is solid but has missed over 30 games with injuries the last three seasons. Injuries also forced left tackle Xavier Fulton to miss five contests in 2014.
Levy Adcock started five games last year as a CFL rookie and is expected to get a good look at one of the tackle spots.
Watman admits the allure of a starting job has him grinding harder this year.
"You want to say that you don't, but obviously there's a little more push in you,'' said Watman, a native of Queensville, Ont. "There's that opportunity there to start, to be out there every game.
"That's what we all came here to do from the start.''
The Riders' offensive line will have to get used to a new coaching staff as offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine and offensive line coach Dan Dorazio are both in the their first year with the club. That means having to learn a new playbook and new terminology, which has Clark and Watman spending even more time together off the field.
As they adapt to the changes, they're also pushing each other to be successful with them.
"We talk a lot about it and we want to be perfect for the team,'' Clark said. "This isn't a personal thing between us. It's bigger than that.
"We've told each other whatever happens with this job we're still going to be friends no matter what.''