There’s a much different Roughrider defensive line than there was this time last year.
In fact, the defensive line even looks different than what was expected at the beginning of training camp.
General manager and head coach Chris Jones came into Saskatchewan, dropped the Saskatchewan defence almost in its entirety and began to build it up from scratch.
Jones made a splash by picking up Canadian defensive end Justin Capicciotti, but before that, Shawn Lemon inked a two-year deal with the Riders and became the face of the franchise alongside Darian Durant in the new jersey campaign.
Fans were excited about the addition of Lemon, a veteran and premiere pass rusher. He spent half of last season down in the NFL, but went on to register 15 defensive tackles, six quarterback sacks and three forced fumbles with the Redblacks when he came back. The season before he was good for 13 sacks, an interception and eight forced fumbles.
But as of Wednesday, he’s third on the depth chart behind rookie Jonathan Newsome and former B.C. Lion A.C. Leonard.
The coach sloughed off any deeper meaning, saying starters don’t matter on his team.
“Newsome and 99 (Leonard) are very good football players, as is Shawn Lemon. We’ll package all three of those in at some time together,” Jones said.
Newsome agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“We’re a tight-knit group,” he said. “It’s an unselfish group, so it doesn’t matter who’s in. We want everybody to have success … everybody eats, that’s our memo. Everybody eats.”
“It’s not just the first four that are going to get in there,” added Justin Capicciotti. “We’re going to rotate as a group and everybody’s going to make plays.”
And the group of them are gelling well together. It’s the benefit, according to Capicciotti, of training camp and the bye week where they spent lots of time together.
“We’ve had enough reps in training camp and leading up to the first game to really trust the guy next to you,” Capicciotti said.
Not quite next to him, but just down the line is Newsome, who never imagined himself in Canada, let alone Saskatchewan. He’s from Ohio, played college football at Ball State, and went to the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round of the NFL draft.
Newsome was a standout rookie for the Colts, getting 6.5 sacks – a team high, and second best for all league rookies. He was cut by the Colts after his second season amid some legal troubles and a drop in production. His charges for possession of marijuana were dropped earlier this year and Saskatchewan came calling.
“All I can do is just play my role everyday and just take it one day at a time. I’m here now and I’m enjoying it. I like it,” he said.
As the depth chart shows, he’s also adjusting to the game well. Newsome said he’s made some tiny tweaks, but overall he loves the pace and the size of the field.
“We can run. It gives us a little more time to chase guys down, they can’t run out of bounds as quickly,” Newsome said.
Newsome expects to be dangerous out on the field, and while he won’t say how many sacks he expects to get, he can’t wait to show the Saskatchewan fans ‘Agent Zero’.
“I’m going to make sure they see Agent Zero, just everything I’m about, (a) relentless, defensive player, just out here hitting and running anything – hitting anything and everything, players, coaches, cheerleaders, anybody with the ball.”
“I’m excited. I can’t wait.”