1 - GALE FORCE: Mitchell Gale makes his first professional start at quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday night when they host the Ottawa RedBlacks (7:00 pm, TSN, 620 CKRM Rider Radio Network). The biggest storyline for the Roughriders at the quarterback position is that Darian Durant won't play, but Gale has a very interesting story of his own. The 26-year old from Alva, Oklahoma was out of football this spring after three prior seasons with the Argonauts and Tiger-Cats but, not wanting to give up on his career, paid his way to several CFL free agent walk-on camps in the States over the off-season.
His determination paid off as he latched on again with the Argos, but was subsequently traded to the Roughriders on July 2 in the Shawn Lemon deal. Argo coach Scott Milanovich admitted Mitchell was a player he "hated to give up" and come Friday night, we may all find out why.
It's a remarkable tale of determination and in the short time he's been here, Gale has endeared himself to his teammates. They'll all have his back against Ottawa, and it'll be interesting to see if he endears himself to the Rider Nation come Friday night.
2 - THE LINE AND THE FORECAST: The Las Vegas oddsmakers don't seem to have much faith in Gale and the Roughriders in this one. Oddshark.com has the RedBlacks favoured by 7-points while Bodog has installed Ottawa as 6-point favourites. Meanwhile this gorgeous summer continues in Saskatchewan as the forecasters call for sunshine and 29-degrees on Friday evening. Will this be the first sellout?
3 - DURANT MAKES HISTORY: Darian Durant will miss this start but when he returns to the field, he'll have an impressive CFL record in tow. "Doubles" has gone 10 straight starts without throwing an interception, a stretch which includes 256 pass attempts without a pick. According to CFL Game Notes, that's a league record. The most pass attempts legendary Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo went without an interception was 203.
4 - MORE STATS: Opposition offenses have gone 7/9 in the Red Zone against Saskatchewan which ranks the Riders at the bottom in that category ... Ottawa carries a five-game road winning streak into Friday's contest ... Ottawa and Saskatchewan are the two teams who pass the most. Through four weeks, the teams have featured a 70-30, pass-run split ... The Riders have the fewest rushing attempts of any CFL team so far this season ... Saskatchewan is 2-for-6 in converting 3rd-and-1 gambles. Across the league, teams are 37/47 while Edmonton (7/7) and Ottawa (3/3) are perfect ... Rider quarterbacks coach Jarious Jackson told 620 CKRM's SportsCage on Wednesday that converting on 3rd-and-1 comes down to "want to". He also said flawless snaps "should be automatic" in these situations.
5 - AT THE CARWASH: If you'll recall I listed rookie Justin Cox as the best defensive back in the Riders' Florida minicamp and he's carried that strong play all through training camp and into the regular season. The story of how he got to the Roughriders in the first place is an interesting one.
"It started when Coach Jones called me up," Cox recalled on Wednesday. "I was working at a carwash in Atlanta and it took me a minute to agree to a contract because I was thinking about going back to the NFL. It was a big process, I had to get to Canada ASAP but I just perfected my craft the whole way. When it was my time to shine, I shined!"
Cox's NFL resume includes a stint with Kansas City and he's made no secret of his desire to get back to The League.
"I played with the Chiefs," Cox reported. "I got dismissed or something over some 'little issues' but I'm back on the right track now and playing great. Of course I want to get back to the NFL. That's my goal. I'm coming here to give teams a good image of me and I want to publicize that so everybody can see it."
6 - I LOVE REGINA: Where's Pat Fiacco when you need him? Rookie Roughrider offensive lineman Josiah St. John - who will make his first pro start at left guard Friday night - would've made a great poster child for the former Regina Mayor's "I Love Regina" campaign from years ago.
"I actually love Regina!" the behemoth from Toronto said on Wednesday. "I came out here, saw how the town is, small city, but the view and everything to see is beautiful. I love it out here. A few people have recognized me on the street. It was weird. I wear my Oklahoma stuff a lot so people see that, they see a big guy, and they say 'That must be Josiah!'"
At 6'6", 320 lbs, St. John can be an intimidating figure but he really seems to be a big teddy bear. At least, off the field that is. If you close your eyes and listen to him speak, he sounds exactly like fellow guard Chris Best.
It looks like St. John will be here a good long while, and will be a cornerstone of this rebuilding process.
7 - MORE NOTES, ELSEWHERE: Week 5 in the CFL kicks off Thursday night in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers hosting the Calgary Stampeders. There's a Heat Warning issued for the Manitoba capital and you have to wonder if that's for the citizens of Winnipeg or for Blue Bomber Head Coach Mike O'Shea.
The odds are not in Winnipeg's favour. The Stampeders haven't lost in Winnipeg since 2009 - a streak which includes seven consecutive victories.
Meanwhile the Blue Bombers are getting the most out of their prized free agent signing, running back Andrew Harris. The Winnipeg product has received more "touches" than any other player in the CFL this season with 43 rushes and 26 receptions.
Winnipeg will be without the services of another prized free agent Thursday night - receiver Ryan Smith - who was placed on the 6-game Injured List on Wednesday.
But who's kidding who? This game all comes down to the arm of Bomber quarterback Drew Willy. If he plays capably and wins the game, it'll buy O'Shea and Co. a little more time. The noose appears to be that tight in Winnipeg.
8 - THE WHEEL OF DISCIPLINE: The suits at CFL head office spun the wheel and it landed on "FINE" for B.C. Lions defensive tackle Mi'chael Brooks on Wednesday. I say that tongue-in-cheek of course, because I predicted in the MMG that a fine was all the discipline Brooks would face after his hit on Darian Durant which knocked him out of the game.
It's interesting that Duron Carter's contact of Ottawa coach Rick Campbell a few weeks ago illicited a suspension but a dirty shot like Brooks' - which will cost Durant at least a game-and-a-half absence - caused only a slap on the wrist.
So far though, I can't say I disagree with much of what's been handed out by CFL V.P. of Football Glen Johnson.
9 - THE CRITICS ARE AT IT: Many CFL observers feel "something's missing" on the CFL on TSN panel and that the group could benefit from the addition of a defensive mind. Jock Climie, Matt Dunigan, Milt Stegall and Chris Schultz all earned their pay on offense during their careers but one SportsCage listener said their viewpoints have added up to a Bobblehead Effect (they all nod and agree with what each other's saying).
If TSN was to add a former defensive player as an analyst, many fans have voted for Daved Benefield, Scott Schultz, Doug Brown or Luc Mullinder. Tom Higgins or Corey Chamblin would make fantastic replacements for Paul Lapolice on the Coach's Playbook but TSN has likely already looked into that.
10 - WHO SAID IT?: Here's a quote from a CFL head coach regarding their opponent this week. Can you guess who it is?
“They’re going to do what they do. They have a lot of good schemes and they do a lot of good things. It comes down to us playing well. Whoever we play in this league, we have to be at our best and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”
HINT: It could be any head coach in the CFL because they all say exactly the same thing. Sometimes I wonder why we even do interviews at all.
ANSWER: RedBlacks Coach Rick Campbell.
DRAFTKINGS WEEK 5 LINEUP: Here's my Week 5 DraftKings lineup:
QB: Bo-Levi Mitchell
RB: Brandon Whitaker
WR: Brandon Banks
WR: Derel Walker
FLEX: Rob Bagg
FLEX: Nik Lewis
That's the winner! Good luck if you're playing.
A REAL NICE NOTE:
Thank you David Ridgway for this kind note you sent through the 620 CKRM website!:
Just a quick note Rod...For years I have popped in and read your stuff (at different venues) and it's always entertaining and informative. However after reading your piece on CFL.ca this morning about tonight's reunion of the surviving members of the '66 Grey Cup team I had to drop you a note and say "well done". You truly managed to convey the sadness George feels about not having Ronnie around anymore, but at the same time you put in that great short line about Jack Abendschan falling in the mud at Empire Stadium and loosening everyone up as the game was getting ready to get going...it was a great piece to read. Thank you...
Riders 1982 - 1996
What a nice thing for Dave to say!
SEE YOU ON THE RADIO,