Tuesday, June 16, 2015
SMITH THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION
That included the quarterbacks, as the stable has been trimmed to three: Darian Durant, Kevin Glenn and Brett Smith. Veteran Tino Sunseri was cut Sunday night (which we'll discuss in a minute), while Noah Picton was returned to the U of R Rams.
Brett Smith won the third string job outright in Saturday's 31-24 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in Fort McMurray, going 5/6 for 99 yards and a 32-yard touchdown pass to rookie Greg Hardin all in the third quarter. It was the "Coming Out Party" for the Salem, Oregon product and record-setting quarterback at the University of Wyoming.
"It was just, to be honest, great for me to back on the field," Smith said Monday. "It's been so long, like a long time, since I've been on the field (in a game). I just had a blast out there. I was really happy with the game plan. I feel like I was comfortable out there. Coach Jacques Chapdelaine did a great job game planning, giving me and the rest of the guys, raising our comfort level out there."
Smith met with the media for about five minutes, calmly and casually swatting aside questions about Saturday's performance, his relief at earning the job, and his long road to get here. His stubbly beard and lanky frame drew comparisons to Green Bay star pivot Aaron Rodgers while the twinkle in his eye reminded me of Kent Austin, in his playing days.
But that's where the comparisons end. Smith's certainly not a pocket passer like those two Hall of Famers, and he made this team based on his scrambling ability which was on display Saturday night. Rider coach Corey Chamblin compared him to another Packers great, Brett Favre, with his gun-slinging ability and penchant for extending plays.
However Smith's first training camp with the Riders was a quiet one. He plied his trade under the radar of the watchful media, and celebrated his 23rd birthday on June 8 with no fanfare.
However despite his tender age, Smith feels like he's been through a lot to get here having been discarded by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Toronto Argonauts which left him wondering if a career in the game would be in the cards.
"I don't know, it's what a lot of people go through," Smith shrugged. "I've been cut twice. I don't know if y'all know but I declared early (for the NFL Draft) to pursue my dream of being an NFL quarterback. It didn't work out. It was kind of a tough journey for me but I was invited to the Bucs rookie minicamp. I was told some things by the coaches but it didn't pan out.
"Then I was in Toronto and didn't have a great experience there. Didn't get any reps and was bartending and working in my Grandpa's vineyard back home, doing some farmwork. I'm glad I did it, but it wasn't fun. It's not my passion, it wasn't my dream. Football's my dream. I just continued to work, put my head down, and believed that I could do it.
"I just went to work, learned about myself and found out who my real friends were. I knew that my family stuck by me. I got to spend some quality time with me girlfriend and I'm sure she liked that! I had a blast with her and then I got a contract offer here in March.
"That's pretty much it," Smith concluded. "It doesn't sound that bad when you sum it up in 30 seconds!"
That brought uproarius laughter from the dozen or so reporters hanging on Smith's every word but it's clear he feels a sense of accomplishment at finally cracking a pro football roster.
"No, it was a tough road but I'm just real glad that I'm here."
It's also clear that Smith has a fan in franchise star Darian Durant, who ran 15 yards onto the field in Fort McMurray and embraced him in a bear hug after heaving that touchdown bomb to Hardin.
"Man he just went out there and made plays," Durant smiled. "He asked me right before he went out, he calls me 'Old School', which is crazy, but he said to give him a little advice. I told him, 'Young buck, just go out and make plays'. That's exactly how you open the coaches' eyes. Just make plays, and he did a great job of that."
If things go like they did in Tino Sunseri's rookie year of 2013, we won't hear from Smith again for the rest of the season. Sunseri was the Flavour of the Week after his exploits in the team's come-from-behind preseason win at Edmonton that season, but never saw the field again as he served as a back-up to Durant and Drew Willy. The same may happen to Smith this time around, behind Durant and Kevin Glenn, but at least this has given us something to talk about for another day.
As for Sunseri, who's now on his way back to Florida to ponder his football future, Corey Chamblin basically said Monday that the three year veteran simply ran out of chances to shine.
"It wasn't whether he was going to get 200 or 300 yards," Chamblin explained. "It was just about how he managed the game. The other thing is we saw Tino last year so he had opportunities last year. When you look at it, he was going into his third year versus a guy in his first year. We just had to look at all those things and that's how it panned out."
NOTES: The Roughriders have scaled back their training camp workouts to one-a-day and they're hitting the field in Saskatoon daily at 10:30 am. The club will break camp Wednesday afternoon and return to Regina where they'll hold a final walk-through late Thursday afternoon before Friday's home game against the Calgary Stampeders (7:30 pm, TSN, CKRM Roughrider Radio Network) ... Among the injured vets missing Monday's workout were S Tyron Brackenridge and REC Ryan Smith. The nature and severity of their injuries is not known ... FB Scott McHenry came off the Did Not Participate list to take part in Monday's practice ... Ottawa RedBlacks GM Marcel Desjardins placed a call to free agent kicker Paul McCallum regarding his availability. The RedBlacks' kicking situation is in shambles ... The Toronto Argonauts have placed QB Ricky Ray on the 6-game injured list ... The Calgary Stampeders have signed 4-year CFL veteran and one time All-Star RB/KR Tim Brown ... Following Tuesday's morning practice in Saskatoon, 620 CKRM's SportsCage will originate from our downtown Regina studios at 4:00 pm with analyst Mike Abou-Mechrek in studio.