The Saskatchewan Roughriders are ready to ditch the sweatpants and bring on the pads.
After a week of training camp in Saskatoon, the team is ready to kick off the CFL preseason Sunday against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Though primary starters like Zack Evans, Jerome Messam and Chad Owens won’t be making the trip, fans are intrigued to see how some of the lesser known players can perform.
No battle on the depth chart matters more this time of year than the quarterback position. Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge are expected to be at the top of that chart, but what about the rest of them?
Enter David Watford.
“He’s a guy two or three years ago, when he first came out of college, we tried him out at Norview High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He was a tremendous athlete, he’s got a great arm. We look forward to what he can bring as a quarterback,” head coach Chris Jones said of his young quarterback.
Watford is etched in as the starting quarterback against Edmonton, the first of three quarterbacks to see playing time. Marquise Williams will take over after Watford and then will concede to B.J. Daniels towards the end of the game.
Jones knows Watford and the Virginia area well. His coaching career began in Virginia and that’s allowed him to have candid conversations with Watford’s former coaches ahead of signing the pass thrower.
Watford is feeling comfortable with his game heading into his first taste of CFL action, but he can’t highlight just one aspect.
“I think it’s more of everything,” he said after the team’s walkthrough on Saturday. “My command of the offence, the huddle, being around the guys and the guys being more familiar with me.”
“I feel like our chemistry is starting to build out there.”
Watford has arguably been the most impressive quarterback early on at camp, making passes to all areas of the field with pinpoint accuracy.
Many reporters have been quick to quell any hype around Watford by bringing up Brian Bennett’s name.
Bennett was a standout at camp last year until he faltered and disappeared come game time.
Watford’s first week is also impressive because he hasn’t played much at quarterback since that workout with Jones.
He emerged as one of the best gunslingers in the state of Virginia after a successful four years at Hampton High School. He then took a leading role as quarterback for the University of Virginia Cavaliers for three seasons before transferring back to Hampton for his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Watford quickly made the switch to wide receiver after college, playing the last two years with the Philadelphia Eagles before signing with the Roughriders in October 2017.
Watford mentioned quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo did a lot in his first week to get him up to speed with the playbook and nuances of the CFL game.
“This is my first time playing quarterback in three years, so I may look like I’m chill right now, but on the inside, I’m so happy, I’m thankful,” Watford said of his opportunity to lead his team on the field.
“When I first got here, I didn’t know what was going on, I was so confused.”
Marquise Williams feels the same way about facing a 12th defender and throwing on the wide field.
“When I came here last year, it was like learning a different language.”
Williams has the added benefit of familiarity. He earned his spot with the Roughriders last year at the bottom of the depth chart and is hoping that experience means a more meaningful role in 2018.
Fans are waiting to see William’s best after coming to camp with a serious reputation last year. Arriving from the University of North Carolina — the same school that Darian Durant is considered to be a legend– Williams broke nearly every quarterback record.
Overshadowed by the other quarterbacks in the first week of camp, Williams doesn’t see Sunday’s game as make-or-break.
“If you’re going in thinking it’s a make-or-break then you’ll go out and break yourself,” he said of the pressure. “You just gotta go out and have fun.”
“I’m not going to try to be the hero.”
Heroes or not, Jones is eager to land in Edmonton and get the pre-season underway after a long week of practice.
“As a coach, you just want to make sure your young players are comfortable schematically and their bodies feel as good as they possibly can on day six and get them ready to play.”