The Saskatchewan Roughriders expect to see a much different Mike Reilly this weekend.
The Edmonton quarterback will be looking to help the Eskimos avenge a 39-18 opening-day thrashing when the Roughriders visit Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
“He has a different level of experience now,” Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin said, citing a number of intangibles such as “maturity” and “poise.”
Reilly, acquired in a trade with the B.C. Lions in the off-season, completed only 17 of 35 passes for 259 yards against Saskatchewan on opening day. He threw for a touchdown, but was intercepted three times.
Now seven games into the season, Reilly has connected on 128 of 206 passes for 1,728 yards, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He has also carried the ball 26 times for 229 yards and a touchdown, and even caught a 15-yard touchdown strike from slotback Cary Koch.
That includes an impressive performance in a close loss to Toronto last week, when he went 35-of-46 for 511 yards and three touchdowns.
“He is definitely finding his groove,” said Roughriders linebacker Weldon Brown.
Chamblin observed that this is true of the Eskimos’ offence as a whole.
“They’re starting to do the things you have to do to win,” Chamblin said. “We’re going to have to play solid defence against them.”
In particular, the Roughriders must contend with Fred Stamps, a potentially explosive slotback who has 28 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.
“(Stamps) is a good receiver, without a doubt,” said Roughriders defensive back Dwight Anderson. “This league has a lot of good receivers, and he’s definitely one of them.”
Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant expressed a good deal of respect for Edmonton’s defensive front seven, and he stressed the importance of the ground game as a means of nullifying the pass rush.
The Roughriders (6-1) and Eskimos (1-6) are at opposite ends of the West Division standings and Durant believes the best way to discourage any thoughts of an upset is “to jump on them early.”
Chamblin has been stressing all season that the Roughriders focus on “fundamentals and execution.” Chamblin is a firm believer in the basics, and he isn’t reluctant to makes changes. Case in point: Jock Sanders.
Last weekend, in a thrilling 24-21 victory over the visiting Montreal Alouettes, Sanders twice fumbled the ball away on punt returns, and has been temporarily relieved of his responsibilities. Against the Eskimos, Chamblin said, the Roughriders will be returning punts “by committee.”
They will also be operating on offence without the services of wide receiver Rob Bagg, who was injured in the game against the Alouettes. Bagg has 14 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns, but he also has a history of serious knee injuries.
Fortunately, this latest occurrence has turned out to be less serious than was first thought. Team doctors have diagnosed it as a sprain, and according to Chamblin, Bagg’s status is day-to-day.
“Rob’s an inspiration to everyone in the locker-room,” said fellow wide receiver Scott McHenry, noting that in Bagg’s absence it will be necessary for “someone to step in and pick up the slack.”