Schaffer-Baker eager to make return to Roughriders lineup

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker (89) warms up during practice at Mosaic Stadium on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 in Regina.

After starting the season on the six-game injured list, Schaffer-Baker could make his season debut this week

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

Kian Schaffer-Baker is trending in the right direction.

After starting the season on the six-game injured list as he recovered from off-season hip surgery, the Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver logged his first full practice this week after being a limited participant for the past couple of weeks.

Now, it appears the 25-year-old lose to making his season debut, as he was working with the starting offence as the 4-5 Riders get set to host the 7-2 B.C. Lions on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium (5 p.m., TSN) in Week 11 of the CFL season.

But he’s also not about to rush back into things.

“It’s been long and a lot of work and something you’ve just got to be diligent with,” Schaffer-Baker said of his recovery. “Just taking it day-by-day, that’s the biggest thing.

“People like to look far down in the future and that’s not even promised so it’s just taking it one step at a time through the whole process.”

If this week goes well, there’s a chance he could suit up on Sunday.

“He’s practising, so we’ll see how he does and see how he looks by the end of the week,” said Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson.

However, it might be tempting for the team to not press him into action with the Riders having their second bye week of the season following Sunday’s game. If that’s the case, Schaffer-Baker would likely make his return in the annual Labour Day clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sept. 3, which was the original timeline for his return.

“I’d say I’m feeling ahead of things but again, you can’t rush those things,” said Schaffer-Baker, who underwent surgery in March. “A lot goes into it and you’d hate to see things get ruined just off wanting to be a little too eager just to get out there.

“I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

And that mindset of taking it slow has helped Schaffer-Baker through the recovery process, which has included watching his teammates go to battle through the first nine games of the season.

“It’s the hardest thing every day,” he said of being a spectator. “The relentless mindset you have just has you itching every single day to just get back out there.”

And when he does return, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver will be a welcome boost to the Riders receiving corps with his big-play ability.

Since being a fourth-round pick by the Riders in the 2020 CFL Draft, Schaffer-Baker has risen to the occasion every time his number has been called. After starting his rookie season on the practice roster in 2021, he got into the lineup due to injury and went on to catch 47 passes for 563 yards and two touchdowns while starting nine games.

Last season, he started all 18 regular season games, registering 68 catches for 960 yards and five touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories. He also added 13 carries for 74 yards, while being named the Riders Most Outstanding Canadian. The Riders rewarded him this off-season with a two-year contract extension.

Not only is he capable of making big plays on the offence, but the Mississauga, Ont. product also helps the ratio, as the Riders originally planned on starting two Canadian receivers heading into this season. But injuries to Mitch Picton, Brayden Lenius and Juwan Brescacin have complicated things, leaving Samuel Emilus as the only starting Canadian and forcing the Riders to bring another Canadian in elsewhere.

And if does return this week, Schaffer-Baker will be a welcome addition for quarterback Jake Dolegala, who is expected to draw the start this week in place of the injured Mason Fine.

“It’s great,” said Dolegala. “He brings a lot of energy. He’s obviously a heck of a football player so it’s good to have him back.”

Lineup changes and injury updates

If he does play this week, it appears Schaffer-Baker would replace Jake Wieneke on the starting receiver group, which also features Emilus, Shawn Bane Jr., Tevin Jones and Jerreth Sterns. Picton also has a chance to get back on the roster this week, likely in a backup role, as he practised fully two days in a row

After missing Day 1 of practice, defensive lineman Anthony Lanier was a full participant on Thursday and should be good to go for Sunday.

And while it was a positive sign on the injury front, Dickenson was disappointed with how Thursday’s practice went on a hot day in Regina.

“I didn’t think it was great,” Dickenson told media after the workout. “I think we can do better. And that was the message at the end. We want to demand perfection from the players and I challenged the players to demand the same thing from their coaches.

“We’ve got to coach them hard. We’ve got to try to be as good as we can possibly be and I used the term, ‘we can’t be ok with just being ok.’ ”