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Saskatchewan Roughriders' fullback Chris Szarka jumps in across the line for a touchdown while playing against the Calgary Stampeders during the second half of CFL football action in Regina, Saskatchewan November 7, 2009. Saskatchewan won the game 30-14, making it the first time the Roughriders finished the season in first place in the western division. REUTERS/David Stobbe


The Saskatchewan Roughriders made headlines Wednesday, and none of the news was encouraging.

First came news that 2011 Canadian draft pick Matt O'Donnell was foregoing signing with the Canadian Football League because he had secured a tryout with the NBA's Boston Celtics.

Soon after, the 'Riders announced they had released Canadian fullback Chris Szarka, a key veteran and contributor to the team's efforts on and off the field.

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Then came the cruncher; Canadian receiver Rob Bagg, who injured his right knee last season, had once again torn an anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee and is likely done for the year.

"There's always a surprise right before training camp. This is our version," said 'Riders' general manager Brendan Taman.

Taman said Bagg re-injured his knee during rehabilitation and had informed the team last week. He was scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday in London, Ont.

The 'Riders had big plans for Bagg this season. They were counting on the fourth-year receiver to help make up for the loss of Andy Fantuz, who signed with the NFL's Chicago Bears. In 15 games last season, Bagg had 44 catches for 688 yards and three touchdowns.

"It's a disappointing thing," Taman said of Bagg's second setback. "Now it's up to Jordan Sisco, Chris Getzlaf and Jason Clermont. We have to go with the guys we have."

The 'Riders were also informed last week that O'Donnell, their second-round pick in the 2011 draft, would be trying out for the Celtics. The 6-foot-10, 340-pound offensive lineman did not play basketball while attending Queen's University.

"His agent called us and said Matt might not be there for mini-camp," said Taman. "We gave him permission to tryout. It's a little bit awkward but when he gets here we'll evaluate him."

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The decision to release Szarka was "a difficult one," Taman explained. The 'Riders had asked the 36-year-old fullback to retire; he asked for his release instead so he could try and catch on with another team.

"The fullback position is not what it was (in the CFL)," said Taman, who acquired Canadian fullback Graeme Bell from the Edmonton Eskimos in a trade last month. "Fullbacks aren't used the same. And with special team needs and now a salary cap, unfortunately, Chris got caught in that."

CFL teams open their rookie camps Thursday. Main camps open this Saturday.

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Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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