CFL training camp: The ‘Thurmanator’ tackling leadership role on Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Jameer Thurman (6) on the field for Rider training camp at Griffiths Stadium. Photo taken in Saskatoon on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Darren Zary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

There’s the Terminator and then there’s the Thurmanator.

Saskatchewan Roughrider fans will soon get a chance to watch Jameer Thurman in action as he minds the middle on defence, taking over from the now-retired Larry Dean.

Thurman, a 6-foot-tall, 227-pound linebacker, has made 367 defensive tackles, 31 special-teams tackles, 11 sacks, eight interceptions and 10 forced fumbles over 82 career games since arriving in the Canadian Football League as a rookie in 2017.

“The Thurmanator — he’s awesome,” said Riders head coach Corey Mace during training camp earlier this week when asked about Thurman, who previously spent time with Mace on the Calgary Stampeders.

“Again, he’s fairly familiar with what we’re trying to do here on the defensive side of the ball. He’s familiar with kind of the mindset that we’re looking for, as well. Just being a pro in this league for so long — it’s similar to (quarterback) Trevor (Harris) on offence — there aren’t a lot of scenarios that Thurm hasn’t seen from a defensive standpoint to help out and be an extra coach on the field, so it’s awesome to have him.”

Thurman spent last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, playing all 18 regular-season games. He posted a career-high 98 defensive tackles to go along with five sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Thurman was one of the top CFL free agents available in the off-season. The Chicago, Ill., product has spent five seasons in the CFL, including four years with Calgary Stampeders (2017-18, 2021-22) and one with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2023). He was a member of the Stampeders’ Grey Cup-winning team in 2018 along with Mace.

“That,” admits Thurman, “made a huge impact (on the decision to join Saskatchewan). I’m just glad we get another chance to work together and go out there and try and win another Grey Cup.

“It’s been great.  My familiarity with the staff was one of the main reasons (to join the Riders), but, at the same time, playing here for as many years as I’ve had, the fans, the stadium — I’m just glad to be a part of it now.”

What’s a Corey Mace-led defence look like?

“Fast; (creating) turnovers,” explains Thurman. “Just a lot of plays to be made from the guys on defence. If everyone’s on the same page, with chemistry and everything, we’re just going to go around, fly around, and make plays.

“(The scheme) is pretty similar, a little bit, to what I had in Calgary, but at the same time, every D co-ordinator has their tweaks and ways of doing things. This is the first time in Mace’s defence. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Indiana State University product, who also had stints with the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 2019 and XFL’s DC Defenders in 2020 before returning to the CFL, said he likes what he sees at Rider camp so far.

“There’s a lot of talent across the board,” he said. “It’s going to be tough (to choose). There are a lot of playmakers out there — D-line, linebacker, DBs. Everyone’s out there, just flying around and making plays.

“We’ve got some guys, for sure. It’s going to take some time to jell but, at the same time, I feel like we have the guys to go out there and make a lot of plays on defence.”

For Thurman, it also means a leadership role.

“I’m expected to be a leader on the defence,” he said. “I’m expected to take control, lead the team, as far as on the field, off the field, making sure we’re building that chemistry together on and off the field as well, and just having that relationship with the guys and that trust goes a long way. The more you trust the guys you are around every day, the better you play.”

The Riders are set to play their Green and White Game on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. at SMF Field in Saskatoon) and their first pre-season game Monday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

“I’ve still got to go out and earn it, showcase that the ability is still there, but it’s a great time to get a feel of the game and get those feet back underneath you and also use those pads that you haven’t used in a long time,” Thurman said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Make way for the Thurmanator.