With three veterans out the door, the Roughriders are looking a lot younger in the receiving corps.
After strong training camps, Shaq Evans and Jordan Williams-Lambert earned positions on the roster and are hoping to leave their mark on the Rider Nation.
But both players were as shocked as the fan base to hear Rob Bagg, Bakari Grant and Chad Owens were sent out the door.
“I had developed a connection with a lot of the vets,” William-Lambert said. “They’ve done a lot for me as far as bringing me along and allowing me to pick their brains on how to become a pro and learn the playbook so it was a connection there. It wasn’t as much excitement as people probably think.”
“I felt bad because those guys were so cool,” added Evans. “I texted all of them after just saying ‘Thank you for everything you did and good luck in your future.’”
Williams-Lambert and Evans are now part of the Roughriders’ future.
Here’s a bit of a deeper look at both of them.
- Age: 27
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 210lbs
- College: UCLA
Evans was signed by the Roughriders in January after bouncing around a couple of NFL teams. Evans played 40 games for the UCLA Bruins between 2010 and 2013 making 126 receptions for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns.
When Evans was asked how it felt to crack the Roughrider roster, an immediate smile came to his face.
“You can see it in my face right now it was one of the best feelings ever. Just to know that your hard work paid off, fighting through injuries and things like that, it all paid off. It was one of the best feelings I had in the last couple years.”
According to head coach Chris Jones, Evans was one of the top offensive producers at training camp. The coaches logged all the receptions made by the receivers and Evans earned 850 yards.
“(Evans) was the leader by far but not only (in yards) but average yards per catch. He’s a guy that can really stretch the field and has played at a very high level,” Jones said, adding he is a tremendous athlete.
Evans fought through injury at camp to stay on the field and fight for a position. He thinks that perseverance really showed the coaches what he was made of.
“I was out there fighting every day. There were days I was in 20 plays in a row, 30 plays. I think I just showed them that I’ll fight. I’ll fight every single day no matter what, hurt and tired whatever. I think I showed them that I’m dependable.”
And Evans hopes to show the fans that too when he gets the chance.
“I want them to know that they got a player that is going to go out there and fight every single week, that has passion – I love to play the game. I want to win every game, every rep, every second. So just know that you got a guy that is going to go out there and fight every single week and make plays.”
- Age: 24
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 228lbs
- College: Ball State
Williams-Lambert joined the Riders in April after a stint with the New Orleans Saints. He was a bonafide star in college, catching 200 receptions for 2,723 yards and 24 touchdowns. He played 44 career regular-season and left Ball State ranked fourth all-time in school history in both catches and receiving yards. He was tied for third in touchdown receptions.
His ability to stay on the field and make the big catches was a big deal for Jones.
“He’s a guy that’s very much like Naaman Roosevelt. A guy that shows up every day and catches the football. You don’t become the third leading receiver in the history of your university unless you’ve been catching a lot of footballs and not only that but you’ve been able to stay healthy,” the head coach said.
William-Lambert was flattered to be compared to Roosevelt, who has helped him immensely since training camp.
“Coming into the locker room that’s somebody you look at and try to gauge your game after because they’ve done so much for the organization and for the team so learning from him has been a blessing for me as far as being a rookie and coming into a game that I haven’t experienced too much in.”
Not a lot of experience, but certainly a lot of excitement. William-Lambert admits there’s a bit of pressure coming in know that some of the veteran faces of the franchise were gone and that he’s got to pick up where they left.
“It’s pressure but I believe I’m prepared for it,” Williams-Lambert said. “It’s all about how you handle it and the goal for me is to handle it well and do my job.”
William-Lambert is quick to smile and considers himself a laid back person, but said all that changes when he gets on the field when the anger and intensity comes out.
“I try to keep it humble, be quiet about a lot of things but at the same time when on I’m on the field I’m a different person more talkative, more competitive.”
Fans may get a chance to see that competitive side on Friday, but the meantime William-Lambert is focusing on the excitement of getting to suit up for the green and white.
“It’s a been a lot of work put in. I’ve experienced some disappointments and to be able to come back and play the game I love is a blessing.”