REGINA — When Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Derrick Moncrief tried to spin out of a tackle and slammed to the ground, he says it felt like he “broke every bone in his shoulder.”
Six weeks later, he’ll be back in the starting lineup for the Roughriders (7-4) when they host the Ottawa Redblacks (6-5) on Saturday.
“I’m very excited. It feels like the first game of my career, for real, just so many setbacks and things like that. I feel ready,” Moncrief said.
On July 19 in Hamilton, Moncrief says the Tiger-Cats ran a screen play and he was caught from the right, tried to spin out of it, but fell to the ground and ended up with a joint sprain in his shoulder.
He said it was hard as a competitor to watch from the sideline, but he learned a lot from the experience.
The linebacker from Alabama made his debut with the green and white in August 2017 and has 20 defensive tackles on the season. He credits a lot of his recovery to the support of his new fiancée — Porcha.
“I got engaged on August 10th,” he told reporters with a giant grin on his face.
“I took her on a river boat, nice little dinner, got off the river boat, had the family set up with some cards and roses, things like that. And then I just proposed.”
The two plan to get married May 11, 2019 in Alabama.
Moncrief returns at a great time — Saskatchewan’s defence leads the league with 29 sacks. Thirteen of those sacks belong to international defensive lineman Charleston Hughes, who also has 28 defensive tackles.
Hughes says those stats do matter, and the plan is to stay on top for the rest of the season.
“You can’t thrive in this league if you’re not producing,” Hughes said.
The Riders got off to a rocky start this season, but national D-lineman Zack Evans says his teammates are finally all on the same page and buying into the vision head coach Chris Jones has for the team. The Roughriders have won four in a row.
“We’re starting to trust each other, starting to understand how each other plays with each other and just attacking it,” Evans said, adding they haven’t really changed much all season.
“It’s been exactly the same preparation since day one. We’ve tweaked a few things and we’ve all just bought in and gotten to work.”
Evans, a Regina product, was signed by the Riders in May 2012 before going to Ottawa in the expansion draft in 2014. He re-signed with the Riders in February.
“I was shocked, obviously, when (Ottawa) took me, but in the end it was the best thing for my career. I got to establish myself as a starting Canadian, won a Grey Cup — I was happy out there,” he said. “But I’m definitely happier to be back.”
The Riders are hoping for a much different outcome on Saturday compared to their game in Ottawa in Week 2. Redblacks QB Trevor Harris had a huge outing, throwing for 345 years and two touchdowns as Ottawa won 40-17.
The Riders hope to go on their first five-game win streak since 2014. Ottawa, on the other hand, has lost two games in a row.
Fans hoping for a quarterback controversy will find none. Quarterback Zach Collaros left the Banjo Bowl after being sacked early in the fourth quarter last week. However, he has cleared the CFL concussion protocol this week and both he and Jones insist he’s fine and good to go against Ottawa.
“He’s fine, he’s had a good week of practice,” Jones said. “Really, all three quarterbacks have had a good week of practice, a good week of prep. We’re excited about going out and playing.”
OTTAWA REDBLACKS (6-5) at SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (7-4)
Saturday, Mosaic Stadium
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: The last time that Ottawa and Saskatchewan met as the Roughriders versus the Rough Riders was 22 years ago Saturday — Sept. 15, 1996 at Taylor Field in Regina.
DEFENCE ON THE OFFENSIVE: The Riders now have a club record eight defensive touchdowns. The CFL record is 11 defensive TDs set by B.C. in 1987. The old Riders’ record was six and that happened three different seasons.
EYES (HANDS?) ON THE PRIZE: Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli is leading the CFL with 74 catches and is on pace (121) to smash an Ottawa record set by Greg Ellingson — 96 in 2017. Sinopoli needs five catches this week to reach 400 for his career.