In Jones they trust. The new boss has yielded quite the crop of players for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the reason they came wasn’t about anything more than the boss himself.
“Coach Jones” was the first response for many of those the Riders signed on day two of free agency.
Kendial Lawrence, Otha Foster and Shamawd Chambers were with Chris Jones and the rest of the coaching staff in Edmonton for the last two seasons.
“He sticks to his word,” explained Lawrence, the combination running back and receiver who is entering his third year in the CFL.
“If he tells you something, he’s going to do it. If he tells you about the program and how he wants to run it, it’s going to be ran that way and Coach Jones is very first class and I respect him a lot for that.”
Fellow running back Curtis Steele played for Jones and offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo in Toronto in 2013.
“I know what (Jones) is all about. I know what he stands for and he’s got my back so I have his,” says Steele.
Canadian defensive end Justin Capicciotti, linebacker Greg Jones, and defensive back Ed Gainey have never worked with the Riders new VP of football operations, general manager and head coach, but quickly bought in to what Jones was selling when free agency began on Tuesday.
“He’s a defensive mind, a very good defensive coordinator, he’s won everywhere he’s been and I’m just excited to learn defence from him,” explained Capicciotti, who braved taking Weston Dressler’s #7 for this season to match with his fellow defensive end Shawn Lemon’s #8.
For many of the players who stepped into the Riders locker room for the first time since signing deals on Wednesday, it felt a little bit like college, meeting your teammates and classmates for the first time as the overhaul has led to a tonne of changes in Saskatchewan.
“We’ve always heard about these guys, playing against them, following them on social media and we finally get up and talk to each other and introduce ourselves, it’s kind of like orientation all over again,” Steele described as he got acquainted with his new teammates.
The only player Steele really knew was linebacker Greg Jones as they both came over from Toronto.
For Jones, it’s now about making sure he’s got all their names right. It may start with Justin Capicciotti – that’s pronounced CAP-uh-CAW-tee, for those following along at home.
“That’s the worst, because you don’t want to mess up a guy’s name, you feel it’s disrespectful, especially when it’s your first time meeting them so what I always do is apologize first and then try to get it and I say it until I get it right,” chuckled the now former Argo linebacker.
Names aside, the group is excited to see how fast they can come together as a team.
Assistant vice president of football operations and player personnel, John Murphy, explained of the 110 players that were on the roster when they took over (75 under contract and 35 on the negotiation list) only 56 remain, so they had more than enough money to spend to start filling things back up.
The overhaul is not yet done as more change is coming. Capicciotti knows what it’s going to take to get everyone on the same page because in his first year with the Ottawa Redblacks, they started from scratch.
“Just from day one, bonding as a team, just getting together and getting on the field during practice and after practice getting together as a team, eating together, hanging out together and doing things like that.”
However, the belief is there that they can contend in year one and that comes from what is laid out from the top.
“Everyone is going to have to go out and earn their cheque. Everyone is going to have to go out there and earn their position. No one is promised anything and I think it’s going to be a real grind,” says defensive back Ed Gainey.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what happens and I feel like it’s all going to pay off in the end because we all came here to win so we’re trying to win that Grey Cup.”
RIDERS TRADE WITH STAMPS
The Riders also announced that they made a deal with the Calgary Stampeders for former University of Regina Ram defensive back Tevaughn Campbell.
The Riders gave up a 4th round pick in the 2017 draft.
Campbell is currently concentrating on track and field due to a nagging shoulder injury but after having team doctors look it over, the Riders are expecting Campbell will be able to make a move back to football and add depth to their defensive back field.