April 27, 2017

Brandon Bridge is looking out for No. 1

Roughriders' quarterback Brandon Bridge throws a ball during warm-up CFL action in Hamilton on Saturday, August 20th, 2016. (CFL PHOTO - Dave Chidley)

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have made some high-profile moves this off-season in hopes of finding a starting quarterback.

In Brandon Bridge’s mind, the CFL team already had a No. 1 QB on its roster: Brandon Bridge.

Most people have focused on Kevin Glenn or Vince Young as the likely successor to the departed Darian Durant, leaving Bridge as something of a forgotten man. But the 25-year-old product of Toronto doesn’t feel like he’s flying under the radar as the Roughriders prepare for mini-camp in Florida.

“I’m not too worried about the signings of Vince Young or Kevin Glenn; they’re just going to bring out more competition,” Bridge says from Toronto. “All I can ask for is a fair chance.

“I never want anything handed to me. I want everyone to be at their best and at their healthiest. Whatever happens and whatever decision the coaches make, at least I won when everyone was at their best or I lost when everyone was at their best.

“People can talk about whoever they want, but just know that on the field, the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. If I’m the best man on the field, that film will not lie and it will show the coaches.”

Bridge began his CFL career in 2015 with the Montreal Alouettes, who selected him in the fourth round (31st overall) of the 2015 draft. The University of South Alabama product played in 11 games with Montreal and made one start — the first start in the CFL by a Canadian quarterback since 1995.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Bridge was released by the Alouettes on Aug. 1, 2016, and signed with the Roughriders nine days later.

Bridge dressed for 12 games with Saskatchewan last season, primarily as the third-stringer. He finished the season with 11 completions in 13 pass attempts for 163 yards, and four rushes for 23 yards and a touchdown.

The Roughriders’ quarterbacking depth chart changed greatly in January, when Durant was traded to Montreal (Jan. 13), Glenn was signed (Jan. 23) and Mitchell Gale was released (Jan. 27). The landscape changed again March 9, when Young was signed.

Bridge could only watch things happen while continuing to prepare himself for the 2017 season.

“There’s uncertainty (over who’s going to be the starter), but all I can do is control whatever I can,” he says. “The best thing I can do is go in there and, instead of counting my reps, make my reps count. If I get two reps, then I have to make sure I do my best on those two reps. If I get eight reps, I have to make sure I get the best out of those eight reps.

“My mindset is to show them that I’m the best guy regardless if I’m Canadian or if I’m younger than the other guys. That’s what I’ve been trying to show every day. That’s what I tried to show last season. I want to show that I’m the best man for the job.”

To that end, he continued his normal off-season regimen, heading to Alabama to work out with quarterback trainer David Morris and Cincinnati Bengals pivot A.J. McCarron.

Since Bridge returned to Toronto, he has been throwing footballs to CFL receivers like Chad Owens, Kevin Elliott and Shamawd Chambers.

All the while, Bridge tried to work on the things suggested to him by Roughriders head coach Chris Jones, offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo and quarterbacks coach Jarious Jackson.

“They know I can run the ball and they know I’ve got a live arm and can throw deep downfield,” Bridge says. “They want me to hone in on the short game, which I’ve really been working on.

“I’m a year into the offence too, so they want me to make sure I know everything like the back of my hand.”

If Bridge can show his level of improvement during the Roughriders’ upcoming mini-camp (April 25-27 in Vero Beach, Fla.) and at training camp (beginning May 28 in Saskatoon), he could indeed win the starting job. If he does, he will have overcome the stigma that seems to be prevalent in the CFL about Canadian quarterbacks.

Then again, Bridge doesn’t think that label even applies to him — despite what his passport says. Having attended Alcorn State University and then South Alabama, he received the same kind of coaching as every other American QB who starts in the CFL.

To Bridge, his birthplace doesn’t matter.

“I have to go (to camp) with the mindset that I’m the best one for the job regardless if I’m white, black, Canadian or whatever,” he says. “I don’t care what I am …

“I’ve shown a lot of promise. In every game I’ve been in, I’ve shown well, and the fans are really rooting for me. It’d be great for me to be the starter, to lead this team and to be very successful.”