Sports

Riders pull the plug on Vince Young experiment, still expect better offence in 2017

REGINA — Call it the comeback story that wasn't.

Among the Saskatchewan Roughriders' many off-season moves at quarterback, the signing of former Texas Longhorn and NFL quarterback Vince Young garnered the most attention.

But the 34-year-old, who  hasn't played a regular-season NFL game since 2011, had his shot at cracking the Riders' 46-man roster cut short after he tore his hamstring at training camp on June 6, removing him from any pre-season play. The club cut Young 11 days later.

"It's disappointing that we didn't get to see him in the pre-season, because it's an easier time to be able to evaluate someone in a real game situation," said Roughriders general manager and head coach Chris Jones. "It was just unfortunate."

The Riders opted to go with Canadian Brandon Bridge and rookie Marquise Williams to back up veteran starter Kevin Glenn, who signed with the team in January.

At 38 years old and with 16 years of CFL play-calling experience — including a Grey Cup loss in 2012 — Glenn takes over one of the worst offences in the league.

Saskatchewan's offence ranked last among CFL clubs in 2016 for points scored, touchdowns scored and passing touchdowns scored. It ranked second-last in rushing touchdowns scored, net offensive yards, first downs and sacks allowed.

After their team's dismal 5-13-0 finish, Jones and offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo agreed the offence needed serious work: a sound running game, dependable blockers and consistent quarterback protection.

Jones believes the players he acquired in the off-season will meet those needs.

Offensive linemen Derek Dennis (2016's most outstanding lineman), Peter Dyakowski (a nine-year CFL veteran) and Dariusz Bladek (the Riders' second-round draft pick in 2017) should give Glenn the pass protection he needs.

Jones said he also wanted depth on the line in case of injures, building a group that can handle two starters going down.

He thinks that former Winnipeg running back Cameron Marshall can lock up the run game, and that Marshall's size is well suited for blocking.

"I like the fact that he's big and that he gets downhill," Jones said. "You've got to be able to put your head down and get us in second-and-medium."

The 25-year-old’s career average for yards gained per rush is 4.4 yards.

As for blocking on the perimeter, Jones said the offence will be solid with a healthy Naaman Roosevelt returning to the lineup and newly signed Bakari Grant, both of whom will start in the slotback position.

The addition of Grant was welcomed by Glenn, who played with the physical receiver in Hamilton in 2011.

"He's not afraid," Glenn said. "He's a receiver who acts like an offensive lineman sometimes, or acts like a defensive guy on the offensive side of the ball. He wants to hit you instead of you hitting him.

"Bringing another guy onto your team, onto your roster, with that kind of mentality is just going to feed off to other guys."

Jones wasn't done with the offence. Along with Grant, he signed lanky, boisterous Duron Carter and speedster Chad Owens, further deepening the receiver position.

The three join an already talented group that includes Roosevelt, Rob Bagg, Caleb Holley and Ricky Collins Jr.

Roosevelt said the extra firepower through the air ups everyone's compete level.

"It just makes it better for all of us," he said. "I feel like we got the team to do it with coach Jones brining in the talent he brought in. I feel like we just got better than last year. So for us it’s just to get the chemistry down and just win this Grey Cup this year."

The Roughriders' first game is Thursday in Montreal against the Alouettes, who will be led by former Riders quarterback Darian Durant.

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