‘We’ve got to get back into the playoffs’: Roughriders set to open training camp on Sunday

The Saskatchewan Roughriders warm up on the field during rookie training camp at Griffiths Stadium. PHOTO BY MICHELLE BERG /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Taylor Shire

Regina Leader-Post

Jeremy O’Day has an idea of what success will look like for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2024.

“We’ve got to get back into the playoffs,” the team’s general manager told the Leader-Post this week. “That should be a minimum for us.

“Our expectations are to compete for a Grey Cup every year so hopefully we’ll have a good training camp (and) hopefully our guys will come together with the changes that we’ve made as an organization.”

When main training camp begins on Sunday for the CFL club, it will mark the start of a new era under head coach Corey Mace — the former Toronto Argonauts defensive coordinator who was brought in this off-season to replace Craig Dickenson.

And so far, O’Day, who signed a three-year extension this off-season, likes what he sees from his rookie head coach.

“He’s just done an excellent job,” said O’Day. “But for him, it’s his first time leading the whole group of coaches.

“Obviously he has experience with leading coaches being a defensive coordinator and now it’s just a little bit bigger of a picture for him.”

Mace and his new coaching staff have already been on the field for three days of rookie camp at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon, but when main camp opens with all the veterans on the field, the anticipation ahead of a new season will grow even higher.

“Just excited to get going,” said O’Day. “And with a whole new coaching staff, they’re anxious to get working with the new players.

“We’re excited to start building the foundation of the season.

The hiring of Mace wasn’t the only major change the Riders made this off-season, but they were very active in free agency as well, signing all-star players like running back A.J. Ouellette and offensive tackle Jermarcus Hardrick.

But looking back at the busy off-season, O’Day feels all the moves were necessary to make after back-to-back years of missing the playoffs with identical 6-12 records.

“We finished what we finished last year so there is going to be some change,” said O’Day. “Not something that you want to do every year by any means.

“It’s important for us and everyone to understand it’s a new season and we’re looking forward to it.”

There will be a few starting spots up for grabs this year, including at left tackle where there are no returners from last year.

Brandon Council, who started five games at left tackle, is not expected back while Eric Lofton, who started 12 at left tackle, was not re-signed in free agency.

Jerald Hawkins, the former NFLer who appeared to be the team’s first choice at the position last year, started one game before being injured. He’s also not returning this year.

“We don’t anticipate having him back,” O’Day said of Hawkins. “I think Jerald, mentally and physically, doesn’t feel like he could do it, so he’ll be someone that won’t be reporting to camp.

“There’s going to be an open competition there for some of the young guys and hopefully they’ll do a great job for us.”

There will also be a camp battle in the interior of the offensive line as three veteran guards — Philip Blake, Logan Ferland and free agent signing Ryan Sceviour — battle for two starting spots. The Riders also have four other Canadians with limited CFL experience in the mix.

“(We) have three guards that have been starters in the league for a long time so there’ll be a competition there of who’s going to be part of the first five,” said O’Day. “That’s a good thing and we’re happy that we’ll have some competition there.”

O’Day said receiver will also be a camp competition with potentially two starting spots available. The team will also have to decide who starts in the defensive backfield at cornerback and who starts at the two defensive end positions.

“We obviously signed Malik Carney and we feel good about him,” said O’Day. “And we’ve got some young guys that we had last year that did a nice job when they got an opportunity and now it’s just a matter of who’s going to rise to the top and take the starting job.

“It’s always a competition so hopefully you have some rookies that can come and push the veterans as well.”