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September 6, 2018

Notebook: Marcus Thigpen returns to returning

Marcus Thigpen is going back in time.

Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones reported Thursday that the CFL team’s primary returner, Christion Jones, won’t play in Saturday’s contest against the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers due to an undisclosed injury.

As a result, Thigpen and Kyran Moore will handle the returning duties at Investors Group Field (2 p.m., CKRM, TSN).

Moore had a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown during Saskatchewan’s 31-23 victory over the visiting Bombers on Sunday, but Saturday’s contest will be just the third of his CFL career.

Thigpen, on the other hand, has been a returner for years. He has handled the duties in the CFL with the Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders.

“It has been a while since I’ve really been back there as the main returner,” Thigpen said after the Roughriders practised at Mosaic Stadium. “I would come in every once in a while if (Christion Jones) was tired or had a little ding during the game. To be full-time back there, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

Thigpen was Hamilton’s main returner during the 2010 and ’11 CFL seasons, recording 116 punt returns for 1,055 yards with one touchdown and 86 kickoff returns for 1,643 yards and a touchdown over 35 games.

He signed with Miami prior to the 2012 season and, over the next four seasons, returned 107 kickoffs for 2,525 yards with one TD and 95 punts for 919 yards with two scores in 50 NFL games.

He rejoined the Roughriders in September of 2017 after Jones was sidelined, but Thigpen was hurt returning a punt in his first regular-season game. He returned for the playoffs, but was a tailback while Jones handled the returns.

So far this season, Thigpen has been more running back than returner; he has just two punt returns for 12 yards and two kickoff returns for 45 yards.

Those numbers could increase significantly Saturday.

“Today is Throwback Thursday, so I actually posted a video to Instagram of one of my returns (with the Dolphins) not even knowing that I was going to be the main guy,” Thigpen said.

“I do flash back pretty often, though, because I miss those days. I miss being back there and being an all-purpose guy.”

Chris Jones said the Roughriders will put Christion Jones on the six-game injured list as a precaution while he deals with an old injury that has flared up.

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Thigpen and Tre Mason have been part of a rotation at tailback all season.

Cameron Marshall and the since-departed Jerome Messam also have had carries out of the backfield this season, but Thigpen and Mason are the mainstays.

Mason (398 yards on 73 carries) and Thigpen (282 yards on 37 carries, with three TDs) have combined for 680 yards, which would put them fourth in the CFL’s rushing derby if they were one tailback. Instead, Mason is seventh and Thigpen is 12th.

“At this point right now, I’m used to it,” Thigpen said of rotating. “I feel like it’s keeping us fresh. It’s allowing both of us to get the rest that we need.

“It’s a long season, so I feel like it’s beneficial. I never question anything the coaches are doing and I buy into whatever it is.”

Thigpen admitted it’s difficult to leave a game if he’s starting to hit his stride, but he’s willing to do it if that’s the game plan. All he can do is make the most of his opportunities when he’s on the field.

“With the rotation that we have going on, opportunities are limited,” he said, “so every time I get my opportunity, I just try to take advantage of it and give the team a spark if we need it or just continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

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Roughriders offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo espouses the theory that he’s going to take what defences give him.

That explains his gutsy call late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, when he called for a deep pass on second-and-three from the Winnipeg 42-yard line.

Zach Collaros found Jordan Williams-Lambert for a 39-yard gain and, three plays later, Nick Marshall scored on a one-yard run that effectively sealed the outcome.

The call drew rave reviews from Saskatchewan fans.

“When I’m calling a game, it’s a rhythm,” McAdoo said. “It’s a feel for what the defence is giving me and it’s a timing of what to call and when to call it.

“(Fans) are going to love the plays that happen to turn out great and they’re going to hate me for the plays that don’t. But that’s not my concern; my thing is to go out and lead our team. We had a situation where we were trying to get in the end zone, (the Bombers) were giving us some things, I saw what they were giving us and so I called the play.”

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Linebacker Jeff Knox Jr., whom the Roughriders released Jan. 31 so he could try his luck in the NFL, signed with the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday.

After leaving Saskatchewan, Knox signed with Tampa Bay. After being released by the Bucs, he had stints with the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans; he was cut by Tennessee at the end of training camp.

Chris Jones said Thursday that the Roughriders didn’t contact Knox to see if he was interested in returning to Saskatchewan, the CFL team with which he had spent parts of three seasons.

“We’ve got guys at that position and we just didn’t have a position for (Knox),” Jones said. “We certainly wish him the best. He has been a big part of what we’ve done here in the past two years.”