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Rob Vanstone: Jobs on the line during Saturday's Saskatchewan Roughriders scrimmage

Rob Vanstone takes a position-by-position look at the Saskatchewan Roughriders leading up to Saturday's scrimmage (3 p.m., Mosaic Stadium).

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders are preparing for an event of such magnitude that, uh, it will be virtually expunged from all memory banks in a matter of weeks.

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Slamming players to the turf will be forbidden. The most incidental contact with a quarterback will result in a piercing glare from a coach. And a maximum of 5,000 people, a mere fraction of Mosaic Stadium’s capacity, will be on hand Saturday when the Roughriders oppose themselves in a controlled scrimmage that is to begin at 3 p.m.

Nobody, with the possible exception of CKRM’s Derek Taylor, will be keeping score. Yet, several jobs will be at stake.

“The Green and White game’s going to be important for a lot of positions,” Craig Dickenson, the CFL team’s head coach, emphasized.

With those sentiments in mind, let’s take a closer look at how the 2021 Roughriders stack up:

Quarterbacks

Dickenson said last weekend that second-year Roughrider Isaac Harker, by virtue of experience, has “a leg up on the competition” for the No. 2 spot behind Cody Fajardo.

However, Harker is not a mortal lock to reclaim the second-string job. CFL neophytes Mason Fine, Tom Flacco and Paxton Lynch have all had their moments.

The arm strength of Lynch, a first-round draft choice of the NFL’s Denver Broncos in 2016, has been noted. Flacco and Fine, both of whom throw the football with a nice touch, are smart and mobile.

“We’ve got Cody and then the rest,” Dickenson said. “That’s the best way for me to probably put it.”

Running Backs

Three-time 1,000-yard rusher William Powell is 33, but is nonetheless the sure-fire starting tailback.

Jamal Morrow, Marcus Murphy and Ralph Webb are competing for a backup job.

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Receivers

Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore are sure things for starting spots after stellar 2019 seasons.

Jordan Williams-Lambert was enjoying a spectacular camp, making an assortment of plays from the slot, until injuring a hand last week. Paul McRoberts has looked impressive in place of Williams-Lambert, as evidenced by Wednesday’s dazzling deep connection with Fajardo.

Look for the Roughriders to start two Canadians — one at slotback (hello there, Brayden Lenius) and one at the wide-side wideout spot.

Lenius aside, the ranks of the Roughriders’ Canadian receivers consist of Justin McInnis, Jake Harty (who is nursing a sore knee), Terrell Jana, Mitch Picton and Kian Schaffer-Baker (a 2020 fourth-round draft pick who lit it up during Wednesday’s session).

McInnis, the sixth overall selection in 2019, has been receiving reps with the first team in camp, but he could be pushed. He battled a quad injury after showing up overweight for camp.

The best new Americans: Charone Peake and Ricardo Louis.

Offensive Linemen

Dan Clark, a returning CFL all-star, is the centre. Evan Johnson, who is temporarily away from the team due to the birth of a child, and Brett Boyko are likely to be the guards.

Ideally, Terran Vaughn will be the left tackle, but he is troubled by a shoulder injury.

Cameron Jefferson is a good bet to play right tackle if Vaughn is ready for the Aug. 6 regular-season opener against the visiting B.C. Lions. Failing that, Boyko could move to right tackle (with Jefferson anchoring the left side) and give Saskatchewan four Canadian starters along the O-line.

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Regina Thunder product Logan Ferland has been impressive in camp. First-round draft choices Mattland Riley (seventh overall, 2020) and Josiah St. John (first, 2016) provide further reinforcement.

Even before Vaughn was injured, the equation was complicated by the retirements of tackles Takoby Cofield and Cyrus Kouanjido, along with perennial all-star guard Brendon LaBatte’s decision to sit out this season due to concerns about the COVID-related restrictions.

“We’ll figure something out,” Dickenson said. “It’s going to sort itself out, but I think we’re going to be fine up front.”

Defensive Linemen

Micah Johnson is battling a knee issue, but the three-time CFL all-star is nonetheless all but certain to claim a tackle spot.

Makana Henry will also see plenty of playing time in the interior of the line, with fellow nationals Charbel Dabire and Alain Cimankinda battling to be part of the picture up front.

A.C. Leonard is certain to play one defensive end spot. As for the other defensive end, the Roughriders are auditioning Keion Adams, Anthony Lanier, Tim Williams, Pete Robertson, Jonathan Woodard, or, perhaps, Deon Lacey.

The key question pertains to whether the Roughriders can replace future Hall of Fame defensive end Charleston Hughes, who left for the Toronto Argonauts via free agency.

Lanier can also play defensive tackle, a position at which fellow newcomer Garrett Marino has earned commendation from Dickenson.

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Linebackers

“That’s going to be a tough one,” Dickenson said, “because it’s really three new players.”

The Roughriders are trying to replace retired middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian and his anticipated successor, Larry Dean. The latter player is lost for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

Lacey could play middle linebacker, weak-side linebacker or even defensive end. Deshaun Davis, Gary Johnson Jr. and Nigel Harris are other candidates in the middle.

The Roughriders are also trying to compensate for the departures of all-star strong-side linebacker Derrick Moncrief (now of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams) and impactful weak-sider Cameron Judge (now of Toronto). Judge was named the West Division’s top Canadian in 2019.

lf the Roughriders opt to continue using a Canadian on the weak side, the candidates will be Micah Teitz, Jordan Herdman-Reed and his twin brother, Justin Herdman-Reed. Teitz lined up with the A group Wednesday.

American weak-side hopefuls include Harris, Johnson and DeMarquis Gates

Newcomer A.J. Hendy, listed on the roster as a defensive back, looks like a nice fit on the strong side.

“We’re hoping to get him on the field some way, somehow,” Dickenson said of Hendy, noting that Jeremy Clark — also listed as a DB — is another candidate on the strong side.

Long story short — the linebacking situation is in flux.

“That’s the one spot on our team where we won’t know and you won’t see that group until Game 1, because it’s a new group across the board and they’re very, very close,” Dickenson said.

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“We’re going to let it play out. We’re going to try to give them all equal reps in this upcoming scrimmage and we’ll hopefully see some separation.”

Defensive Backs

Four spots are taken, thanks to 2019 West all-star safety Mike Edem, halfbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Ed Gainey, and cornerback Nick Marshall.

That leaves the field-side cornerback spot, which could be manned by Hendy, Clark, Blace Brown, Christian Campbell, Godfrey Onyeka or Damon Webb.

Special Teams

Brett Lauther will handle the placekicking. Jon Ryan will be the punter. Morrow or Murphy will likely be the kick returner. The long-snapper: Jorgen Hus.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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