Mace and O’Day on the same page when it comes to building Roughriders roster

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. New Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Corey Mace beside general manager Jeremy O'Day during a press conference welcoming Mace to his new position on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Regina.

The head coach and general manager have similar thoughts on how they would like the Riders to look

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

Corey Mace and Jeremy O’Day might not have known each other on a personal basis a few months ago, but the duo now shares the same vision when it comes to building the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

When O’Day, Saskatchewan’s general manager, hired Mace to be the team’s next head coach at the end of November, part of the interview questioning was about roster construction.

Earlier this week at the CFL winter meetings in Nashville, Mace spoke about how he and O’Day already see “eye-to-eye” when it comes to building a roster and the general manager certainly agrees that his head coach will provide a lot of input when it comes to what the team will look like on the field in 2024.

“He’ll have a lot of say,” said O’Day. “I want to assemble a team that he feels good about and is comfortable with.

“He’s been a big part of the process so far and communicating to the guys and talking to the free agents.”

While the Riders have a few key players on offence like quarterback Trevor Harris — who restructured his contract earlier this week — and Canadian receivers Kian Schaffer-Baker, Brayden Lenius and Mitch Picton coming back for 2024, there’s still a lot of work to do with 25 players from last year’s team set to become free agents on Feb. 13.

Some of those players will be re-signed by them, while others won’t be offered contracts.

“There’s a lot of great pieces that are on this roster currently and we’re certainly working with a lot of guys to come to an agreement,” said Mace. “I know that we’re going to re-sign a bunch of guys that we feel will help us moving forward.”

“With a new staff and a new head coach, some of those evaluations are still going on now,” added O’Day. “How they fit in with the philosophy and the structure of how we’re going to set up the team is something we’re still going through right now.”

Another Canadian receiver the Riders would also like back in 2024 is Samuel Emilus, who put up 1,097 receiving yards last season. However, after that strong year, the 26-year-old has been getting “quite a few” workouts with NFL teams but O’Day isn’t aware of any offers yet.

“Obviously, we don’t want to lose Sam — we’d rather have him with us — but he had a great year last year, he’s a great kid and I’m not surprised that he’s getting the interest that he is,” said O’Day.

One position that Mace and O’Day have already determined is strongside linebacker, as the Riders re-signed C.J. Reavis earlier this off-season, while also releasing veteran Derrick Moncrief, who lost the starting role to Reavis last year.

“Those are always difficult decisions to make but for us, ultimately C.J. Reavis got an opportunity to play a lot in that position last year and was very successful,” said O’Day.

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While there’s still work to do on the offensive line — with centre Peter Godber the only starter signed for next season — there are also several holes on the defence, which is Mace’s forte.

And while the Green and White have also re-signed Reavis and defensive back Amari Henderson, there’s plenty of opportunity for the team to build a defence through free agency, which could mean attracting some former Toronto Argonauts who worked alongside Mace — Toronto’s defence coordinator for the past two seasons who came to Saskatchewan after starting his coaching career with the Calgary Stampeders.

“When you’re starting to implement something new somewhere, the transition is easier when you have people familiar with what you’re looking for,” said Mace. “That helped us in the transition from Calgary to Toronto and certainly I’m sure that there’s going to be players that could be available from Toronto and/or Calgary but that doesn’t necessarily just stop the bill right there.

“There’s many great players in this league and I think every organization is going to do the same and try to put together the best roster we possibly can.”