Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp preview: Defence and special teams

Members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders make a tackle on BC Lions running back Taquan Mizzell (23) during the first half of pre season CFL action at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday, May 27, 2023 in Regina. PHOTO BY KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders hit the field for training camp this week, their defensive lineup will look different than it did last CFL season.

Not only will there will be a new defensive coordinator calling the shots in Corey Mace — who is also the new head coach — but there will a few new faces in the starting lineup as well.

While Saskatchewan returns several big names along the defensive line like Anthony Lanier II and Micah Johnson, they have added to their front line with some big additions in free agency including Malik Carney.

The same can be said in the defensive backfield with a mix of returning players and newcomers.

As for the linebackers, first-year Rider Jameer Thurman will be expected to be the leader in the middle following the retirement of Larry Dean, who posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.

After looking at the offensive lineup yesterday, here’s a position-by-position look at how the Roughriders defensive and special teams units look heading into training camp, which begins on Wednesday for Day 1 of a three-day rookie camp before main camp opens on Sunday:

*denotes American, **denotes Global

Defensive line

Returners: Anthony Lanier II*, Micah Johnson*, Bryan Cox Jr.*, Christian Albright*, Miles Brown*, Caleb Sanders*, Charbel Dabire, Lake Korte-Moore, Nicholas Dheilly, Habakkuk Baldonado**

Newcomers: Malik Carney*, Tre’ Crawford*, Roman Harrison*, R.J. McIntosh*, Elijah Ponder*, Sidney Houston Jr.*

Draft pick: Tyrone Taleni**

Departures: Pete Robertson*, DeMarcus Christmas*, Brayden Thomas*

Analysis: After leading the team in sacks last year with seven, Robertson signed with the B.C. Lions in free agency. The Riders addressed that spot by signing Carney, Crawford and others in free agency.

In the middle, the Riders could have one of the best duos in the league with veterans Johnson and Lanier II expected to be a force all season long if they can stay healthy. Plus, Cox Jr. and Albright will look to build off solid rookie seasons if they can find a way to crack a solid starting lineup.

The group will be coached by Philip Daniels, who was an assistant coach in the NFL for four seasons.


Returners: C.J. Reavis*, A.J. Allen, T.J. Brunson*, Matt Dean, Justin Herdman-Reed, Jaylen Moody*

Newcomers: Jameer Thurman*, Adam Auclair, Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown, Nick Thomas, KD Davis*, Diego Fagot*, Jordan Herdman-Reed, Zakoby McClain*, Mark McLaurin*, C.J. Avery*

Draft picks: Nick Wiebe (injured), Melique Straker

Departures: Larry Dean*, Derrick Moncrief*, Micah Teitz

Analysis: This positional group saw the biggest transformation this off-season.

The Riders signed former Hamilton Tiger-Cats middle linebacker Thurman in free agency, while also adding Canadian and former Ottawa Redblack Auclair to serve as the weakside linebacker, replacing Micah Teitz, who signed with the Calgary Stampeders.

On the other side, the Riders released Moncrief which allows Reavis to continue to man the strongside linebacker position. There will be strong camp competition but these three are expected to secure the starting roles.

This group will be coached by former Edmonton Elks linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who is coming off a four-year coaching stint in the NCAA.

Defensive backs

Returners: Amari Henderson*, Deontai Williams*, Rolan Milligan Jr.*, Jayden Dalke, Jaxon Ford, Nelson Lokombo, Rodney Clemons*, Mark Fields II*, Godfrey Onyeka, Kosi Onyeka

Newcomers: Jalon Edwards-Cooper*, Antione Brooks Jr.*, C.J. Coldon*, Cole Coleman*, DaMarcus Fields*, Holton Hill*, Jamar Johnson*, Marcus Murphy*, Nick Nelson*, Eric Smith*

Draft pick: Richard Aduboffour

Departures: Jeremy Clark*, Nic Marshall*, Trumaine Washington*

Analysis: While Edwards-Cooper was a big signing in free agency, the biggest boost to this group might be a healthy Milligan Jr., after he was limited to just four games last season.

Henderson and Milligan Jr. are the leading candidates to serve as the starting halfbacks entering camp, with Edwards-Cooper and Williams at the two cornerback spots and Dalke at safety.

However, the Riders did add nine American rookies this off-season who could certainly put together a solid training camp and push a veteran out of a spot.

This group will be coached by former Calgary Stampeder defensive back Joshua Bell, who served as the Toronto Argonauts’ defensive backs coach last season.

Special teams

Returners: punter Adam Korsak**, kicker Brett Lauther, long snapper Jorgen Hus

Newcomers: punter Joe Couch**

Draft pick: punter Jordy Sandy** (unsigned)

Analysis: There won’t be much competition in camp in this unit as the Roughriders return all three of their specialists last year — and four if you include Alford as the primary returner — which makes for a solid group for 2024.

Korsak and Alford will look for encore performances after being named West Division all-stars last year, while Lauther and Hus will continue to prove they are among the league’s best field goal units.

Plus, this group also has the same coach from last year as special teams coordinator Kent Maugeri is returning for another season.