Kudos to the Roughriders' Brendan LaBatte, Dan Clark, Rob Bagg, Coach Jones and the staff at Mosaic for bringing back an age old Rider player tradition: The Wild Game Dinner.
Not only is it a shmorgasboard of the finest wild game the Saskatchewan great outdoors has to offer, but also a time for Rider players of all eras to mingle and let (what’s left) of our hair down and enjoy some fellowship.
The event coincided Saturday night with the Lions-Stamps game and as I sat in the Players Lounge being entertained - both watching the game and scanning the room - I realized that as things change, the more they stay the same.
The O-line is still holed up in the back of the room next to the hot food and cold beer, the DBs still make up for their diminutive stature with big voices and good natured commentary on anything and everything, and the chisel-chinned QBs still silently lead the room from the shadows.
Hey, wait a minute! It was apparent that my 43 year old eyes were playing tricks on me as I couldn’t quite focus on the guy across the room posing next to Zach. It looked like an ex-teammate of mine! And then all of a sudden it was as if the clouds parted and the heavens opened up with a chorus of a hallelujah choir of angels, and I realized why it had taken me so long to write this article that has been begging to be written; it would have been an incomplete piece without Drew Tate - perhaps the greatest short yardage CFL quarterback since a young Damon Allen.
The Riders short yardage offence has been infuriating me all season. That ‘one yard’- whether it be for a first down or a touchdown - is the hardest yard in football to earn. Offensive linemen take this yard personally. We don’t run the ball, or throw TD passes, or intercept, or get sacks…we really don’t get to do anything super cool. But we can get that one yard.
The Rider O-line isn’t exactly blowing defenders off the line of scrimmage in ‘one-to-go’ situations, but they are doing a serviceable job in creating those creases needed for the quarterback to sneak through … or the cornerback ... or the wide receiver … or whomever.
It really hasn’t been too much of an issue to the casual observer because the results have been squeaking in the Riders' favour when the chain gang comes in to measure for the first down. First downs and wins can cover up any underlying problem and I would suggest the Riders have been lucky rather than good in ‘one-to-go’ situations. This time it’s not all on the O-line. Someone who knows what to do with the ball in this situation helps a lot.
Due to Zach Collaros's concussion concerns I hope he has taken the last short yardage snap of the season. Just because he can do it, doesn’t mean he should be doing it. Diving head first into thousands of pounds of raging humanity in order to gain an inch can be something he can delegate to another quarterback until his noggin has had a full off season to rest. But to whom?
Brandon Bridge has shown that he hasn’t quite yet found the timing to be an effective QB-sneaker heading into the playoffs.
David Watford was a wide receiver. Up until several months ago he spent his football career coming off the field on short yardage for huskier players, not in the middle of the things! Surely Coach Jones and his staff wouldn’t have the hopes of an entire Nation resting on the sneakability of a player who’s run the sneak fewer times than a three toed Alabama gopher snake.
OH! And that reminds me of the other short yardage QB. Nick Marshall. But, doesn’t he practice with the defense? I’m sure he wouldn’t be wasting his time taking 400-500 snaps a day in practice? I don’t care if he was a college quarterback, or anything else anyone else has done in college playing with 17 year old children, end of story.
Enter Drew Tate, who validated everything I have been thinking about the Riders short yardage offence this season. Defensive co-ordinators are paid big bucks to poke holes in teams, and this was a gaping void that surely will be tested in a crucial moment during the Riders quest for the Cup.
Team Jones apparently stayed in contact and as things go in football, the stars aligned and Drew had a gap in his schedule where others could juggle his responsibilities and he was able to join the Riders. He not only plugs a back-up/third string quarterback role, but also fill this massive void as the short yardage quarterback at a critical time in the season; a role in which he should be able to slide into and thrive with little prep.
Drew has always had a gunslinger of an arm, and I am sure that has not changed. But if it comes to the point where the hopes of Rider Nation depend on the arm of a third string quarterback who was brought into camp after the season was over, well, they’ve got other things to worry about (like who’s hosting the season ending wrap up party).
(I value your feedback on facebook @MikeAbou67)
(Mike played 10 seasons in the CFL winning the Grey Cup in 2007 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. An Economist, Certified Financial Planner and Charter Life Underwriter, Mike run his practice through IG Wealth Management with offices in Moose Jaw and Regina)