The competition at Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp is beginning to heat up as the team’s first pre-season game draws near.
Among the many intriguing story lines is the quarterback battle taking shape behind starter Darian Durant.
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Second-year pro Brett Smith came into camp as the early favourite after seeing plenty of action last season.
Although he’s only entering his sophomore campaign, Smith gained loads of experience as a rookie, seeing significant playing time in 11 games after Durant was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury. Smith threw for 1,822 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while rushing for 444 yards and three more scores.
It was a baptism by fire but also served as a valuable learning opportunity for the young pivot.
“You kind of get more comfortable and you get more familiarity with the guys, and with the defences and the things that defences do schematically, and you have to adjust,” Smith said.
Aside from Durant, Smith is the only Rider quarterback with CFL experience, but the 24-year-old still has some work to do if he hopes to secure the number two job.
“Certainly we don’t discredit the fact that he was here last year and he did play a lot of football but you’ve got to go out every single day and earn your keep,” Riders head coach and general manager Chris Jones said.
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B.J. Coleman and Phillip Sims – who signed with the team on June 6 – are also in the mix for the backup role. All three candidates have impressed Jones.
“We’ve got three really good young quarterbacks. (Sims) is behind the curve a little bit as far as academics go, getting in and out of the huddle and knowing what we’re doing full-scope, but (Coleman and Smith) are both ready to go and we’re looking forward to seeing them,” Jones said.
While Durant will dress for Saturday’s pre-season opener against the B.C. Lions, he is not expected to play. That means Coleman, Smith and Sims will all get ample playing time to impress the coaches and move up the depth chart behind the Riders starter.
“I’m still getting used to (the CFL). It’s different but I’m enjoying it. I’ve got some great teammates helping me along, showing me the ropes,” Sims said.
Meanwhile Coleman, who spent two years on the Green Bay Packers’ practice roster, is eager to see some game action.
“It’s been good to come out and really get that feel this first week. It’s definitely been a week where we’ve been trying to sharpen our pencils and get ready for B.C. They’ve got a good football team coming in here and it’s an opportunity (for me) to play,” he said.
With Durant back to full health the Riders hope that whoever wins the backup battle won’t have to play much this season. But all three quarterbacks behind him plan to be ready if their number is called.