The Roughriders have been without star quarterback Darian Durant for a year and a half – and their record showed it.
The team went 3-15 without Durant at the helm, after he tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of the 2015 season.
Durant said that injury, while tough initially, gave him a new outlook on the game.
“When you take a step and your Achilles pops on you, you kind of put things into perspective and you realize you need to enjoy each and every day, each and every practice, meeting, film session … I just take it one hour at a time, one day at a time and enjoy every moment,” he said after his first day of training camp.
The road back for Durant was long, and admittedly tough, but Sunday he experienced no tightness or swelling and felt good about the way he practiced. He wasn’t alone.
“He had a really good day today,” general manager and head coach Chris Jones said of his starting quarterback.
“When he steps on the football field he makes everybody on the football team play a little bit better.”
Durant returned to a lot of new faces in the receiving corps and minus two of his most consistent targets – Chris Getzlaf and Weston Dressler. His next adjustment will be to the new talent the team brought in to work with him.
“It’s about getting that chemistry down … it’s still a work in progress, but I like where we are, especially for day one and we just have to keep building on that,” he said.
It is also an entirely new playbook for Durant to learn, something he has gotten used to after seeing about a half dozen offensive coordinators come and go. But he says learning new systems is not as hard as you think it would be and repetition helps.
His focus didn’t go unnoticed by his head coach.
“He’s got this calm about him,” Jones said. “Everyone else is kind of panicking, looking around and he just kind of gets where he’s supposed to be somehow. He doesn’t know more than anybody else, but he somehow gets to the right place.”
“He very consistent,” added receiver Clarence Denmark, who joined the team as a free agent earlier this month. “It’s like having a coach on the field. He knows everything.”
There was a lot of praise for Durant from players and the head coach, but offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo tempered his comments a little bit.
“There’s a long way to go, but he’s done a good job getting in the playbook and understanding what we want from him,” McAdoo said, adding he does like having Durant on his side now, instead of having to play against him.
And while there’s lots of work to do, there’s also lots of optimism for what’s to come.
“I’m looking at it as a comeback season, and I’m looking forward to it,” Durant said.