Vanstone: Defending Dickenson despite Riders slide

Columnist Rob Vanstone is standing up for Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson, who has been dealt an extremely bad hand this season.

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Craig Dickenson is essentially being asked to win the Kentucky Derby with Mr. Ed.

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach certainly doesn’t have the horses that would allow him to form a consistently competitive team.

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That helps explain the 6-7 record — and a 2-6 slip that takes the Green and White to Friday’s CFL home date with the Edmonton Elks.

Horsepower is certainly lacking in the attack, where the receiving corps is unobtrusive. Saskatchewan’s roster does not include anyone whose skills make people think of Ray Elgaard, Don Narcisse, Hugh Campbell, Weston Dressler, Joey Walters, Jeff Fairholm, et al.

Even if the Roughriders had an elite squad of pass catchers, would it matter? The offensive line, a blatant obligation last season, is even worse this time – at least in terms of pass protection.

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The running game has been quite productive, thanks to the talents of Jamal Morrow and Frankie Hickson. However, offensive coordinator Jason Maas tends to move away from the running game if and when it is established. It is right to criticize Dickenson for not occasionally whispering in Maas’s ear.

But how can Dickenson, who had improved his head coachship to a scintillating 26-11 on July 8, be blasted for a season-long spate of injuries?

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, to cite just one example, played most of the season with a damaged medial collateral ligament in his left knee. And so it goes…

How about a COVID-19 outbreak that decimated the roster for a home game against the Toronto Argonauts. With Jake Dolegala as the third string starting quarterback, the Roughriders inevitably lost 31-21 on July 24.

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Then came last weekend, when a stomach ailment plagued the Roughriders leading up to and during Saturday’s 54-20 loss to host Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That too was hard on the constitution.

The alleged championship-class defense allowed Winnipeg to register a touchdown or field goal on nine of its 10 possessions – including the first eight.

Although the Roughriders lead the CFL by 36 sacks, rival quarterbacks have rarely been harassed by pass-rushers dressed in green lately. Saskatchewan has resigned only one in each of its last four games.

AC Leonard, the CFL’s 2021 leader, has beaten the quarterback just three times in nine games this season.

Pete Robertson has nine sacks but only two in his last five games since returning from an ankle injury.

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Anthony Lanier II had seven sacks after 10 games but had to sit out three consecutive games due to a concussion.

If there’s one strong suit on the 2022 Roughriders, it’s the linebacking corps. Darnell Sankey, Derrick Moncrief and Larry Dean are top talents.

Moncrief (with four), Dean (two) and Sankey (one) together made seven of the Roughriders’ 13 interceptions.

Nick Marshall, the team’s only non-sales-averse defensive back, leads the secondary with three interceptions. But he’s part of a secondary that has a primary problem – a tendency to be scorched over the top.

While opponents regularly rush past Roughriders’ defensive backs, the opposite scenario rarely materializes – as this is a Saskatchewan team that is arguably lacking in terms of pass protection and playmakers.

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And yes, there is a tendency towards punishment and a lack of discipline – ongoing problems for which Dickenson can and should be held accountable.

But what should a head coach in general do with such a team?

The sports world is constantly changing, just like time. Supplement your regular diet of sports coverage by subscribing to the Regina Leader Post’s 306 Sport Fix newsletter. Each week sports editor Rob Vanstone will provide additional commentary on the Roughriders, Pats and other teams/sports of interest, along with a look behind the curtain. Click here to subscribe.

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