Changes are coming to the Riders first line of defence.
At the start of the season, the team opted to go with Canadians Rory Connop and Brendan Tennant at defensive tackle as the team’s seventh Canadian starter. Since interim head coach Bob Dyce took over the team, that seventh starting Canadian has been at safety.
This week, they’ll be going Canadian once again at defensive tackle following the trade of running back Jerome Messam. This time, they’ll be using the duo of Tim Agbaje and Connop.
“What I expect to see is for them to advance,” said Dyce.
“Even though all of their time hasn’t been on the roster, they’ve been practicing against our offensive line. That’s one of the good things about being on the practice roster is you’re against the best guys.”
This change will be a good test for Agbaje and Connop to see where they’re currently at in their development.
At the start of the season when the team went with Connop and Tennant, it was clear neither was ready to be a starting defensive tackle in the CFL. Neither was creating a push up the middle to allow the other defensive linemen to get pressure on the quarterback. They also weren’t drawing double teams, forcing the linebackers to often try and beat offensive lineman to tackle the running back rather than getting a clear path.
“The biggest thing is (defensive line coach Mike Sinclair) has continued to coach them. Mike spends extra time with every single one of our defensive linemen, one-on-one time. He’s been giving them personal attention throughout the season,” said defensive coordinator Greg Quick.
“I’ve watched them grow. They’re better technicians. They’re better physically. I think it’s going to be exciting to watch them play.”
With Agbaje and Connop getting a chance to return to the lineup, they know it’s a chance they can’t waste.
With just three games remaining, this will be their chance to put some solid play on film for whoever is running the Riders next season.
“This is my playoff game basically because I’m going full hard to the wall,” said Agbaje.
Injury has also forced another change on the Riders defensive line. Alex Hall is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
He recently had surgery and is doing well. The team is hopeful he will return for training camp next season. In his place, Markus White will start at defensive end.
If practice was any indication, Canadian Dylan Ainsworth could rotate it in at defensive end as well after working almost exclusively on special teams since the start of last season.
“(Playing defence), that’s kind of my passion. That’s why I keep playing football. It’s exciting to do something I love,” said Ainsworth.
Other changes on defence could see Keenan MacDougall spend more time at safety.