Last week against the Calgary Stampeders, the Saskatchewan Roughriders had Jon Cornish squarely in their sights.
Head coach Cory Chamblin challenged his defence to hold the CFL’s leading rusher to less than 100 yards. Cornish managed just 67, and the Riders won 30-25.
This Saturday it isn’t that simple. Saskatchewan (6-6) hosts the league-leading B.C. Lions (9-3), who have plenty of offensive weapons that need attention.
“They have a number of different talents,” Chamblin said, “and they’re probably the best team in the league at using all their talents.”
Lions’ quarterback Travis Lulay has a variety of weapons at his disposal. On the ground he has dangerous running back Andrew Harris, and through the air his receiving corps features Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III.
As far as Odell Willis is concerned, however, the focus remains the same. The Riders’ defensive end has one thing on his mind, and that’s sacking the quarterback.
The fact that Keron Williams of the Lions is currently leading the CFL in that department with eight sacks merely provides additional inspiration for Willis, who has six.
“I feel like that’s my crown,” said Willis, who posted 13 sacks last season as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “That’s one of my personal goals, being on top.”
If there’s a drawback to the veteran rush end it’s that he also has a habit of taking penalties for roughing the quarterback.
“He just has to find more control and more balance,” Chamblin said of Willis. “He has to get these things cleaned up, and we’ll continue to work with him to make him a better player.”
Willis is aware of the head coach’s concerns, and seems resolved to helping his team cut back on the costly penalties. But he’s equally determined not to compromise the full-speed-ahead approach he takes the game.
“Hopefully when I get there it’ll be a sack instead of 15 yards,” he said. “You have to keep playing relentlessly. Whatever happens happens.”
In turns of sheer mobility, Willis ranks Lulay third among CFL quarterbacks, behind Henry Burris of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the man he considers the most dangerous scrambler in the league — Saskatchewan’s Darian Durant.
Durant has been slowed down recently by a hip flexor, but the injury is no longer a factor when it comes to deciding whether to use his arm or his legs.
“If the opportunity presents itself, I will (run),” he said.
Durant expressed confidence in what he described as a “dynamic backfield” featuring Korey Sheets and Jock Sanders, and he is becoming increasing more comfortable with the team’s newest receiver, Greg Carr.
Carr has good speed, and he also happens to stand six-foot-six, which gives him a height advantage over most of the league’s defensive backs.
“I think he’s coming along really well. He’s a smart guy. He’s a football player,” Durant said. “All you have to do is put the ball up somewhere and he’ll go up and get it.”
Chamblin is likewise pleased with Carr’s progress.
“There’s a chemistry that’s working there,” he said.
The plan is to deploy Carr at wide receiver for the moment and eventually move him to a slotback position.
“As long as it helps the team, I’m all for it,” said Carr, who is happy to make any contribution he can to the playoff drive, large or small. “Whenever the ball is in my hands, I’ve got to feel like maybe it’s going to be the only time it’s in my hands. I have to make the most of it.”
A former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and Edmonton Eskimo, Carr had one reception for nine yards in Saskatchewan’s 30-25 victory over the Stampeders last week.
“I’m feeling more comfortable, I’m feeling more ready,” he said. “It’s time to go out and be the kind of football player I know I can be.”