Riders head coach tabs veteran Fajardo as starter versus Redblacks

REGINA — Cody Fajardo will be the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starting quarterback Thursday night when they visit the Ottawa Redblacks.

Riders head coach Craig Dickenson made the declaration Tuesday afternoon but said that was the plan all along.

“We felt like he was the starter, we just didn’t want to advertise that,” Dickenson told reporters following the club’s practice. “He’ll get the start and I think he’ll have a good game.”

Fajardo, in his fourth CFL season but first with Saskatchewan, was 9-of-17 passing for 66 yards in relief of starter Zach Collaros in Saskatchewan’s 23-17 season-opening road loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He also ran seven times for 34 yards and a TD.

Collaros was knocked out of the game on just the third play from scrimmage after being hit in the head by Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence while sliding at the end of a rushing attempt. Lawrence received a 25-yard penalty on the play but was suspended for two games Monday by the CFL.

The Riders placed Collaros on the six-game injured list Sunday.

Dickenson also expects rookie Isaac Harker to play in Ottawa. Harker completed 8-of-14 passes for 128 yards with two interceptions in the second half against Hamilton.

“We’ll have a specific plan for when he goes in but a lot of it is feel, especially in the second half,” Dickenson said. “We’ll try to get him some work early in the game and see how he does.

“In the second half we’re trying to win the game so whoever is hot at that point.”

The contest will be Riders’ running back William Powell’s first against his former team. The five-foot-10, 210-pound Powell spent four seasons in Ottawa — winning a Grey Cup in 2016 and helping the franchise get back to the title game last year — before signing with Saskatchewan as a free agent.

Powell finished second to Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris in CFL rushing the past two seasons. Last week, Powell ran for 104 yards and a TD on 20 carries against Hamilton.

“It’s always a little more exciting going to your old stomping grounds but I’m going to approach it like any other game,” Powell said. “I’ll be prepared like any other game.

“It’s still football, I’ll be ready to go.”

Dickenson said with the Riders making a quarterback change, Powell could shoulder more of the offensive load against Ottawa.

“A lot depends on the game,” he said. “If you’re in control of the game and you want to grind it out we’re going to give him the ball.

“If we’re trailing and have to spread the field a little more you’ll probably see Thiggy (veteran Marcus Thigpen) in there a little more.”

Riders’ defensive lineman A.C. Leonard is also a former Redblack and appeared in 17 games last season but played sparingly in the playoffs.

“I know he’s motivated to go back and have a good game,” Dickenson said of Leonard.

Dickenson feels players are always motivated to play well against their former teams.

“When you go back to place you were and had some success I think there’s some motivation to go back and show them maybe what they’re missing out on,” he said.

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