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November 10, 2018

Notebook: The Riders are prepared for anything

Somebody will start at quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday, but who that man is doesn’t matter much to centre Brendon LaBatte.

Neither head coach-GM Chris Jones nor quarterback Zach Collaros would say Saturday if Collaros will start against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL’s Western Semi-Final at Mosaic Stadium (3:30 p.m., CKRM, TSN) or if Brandon Bridge would get the call.

Asked Saturday if it made any difference to him who was behind centre, LaBatte replied: “No. We’ve had several instances this year where we’ve had both of them back there.”

“From what we hear in the huddle, there’s no difference between the two,” he continued. “It’s a little different tone in the voice, but that’s really about where it ends. In terms of play-calling or anything like that, I don’t think we tailor anything to one quarterback versus the other.

“Regardless of who’s back there, we know what we’ve got to do to execute.”

Collaros started 14 games for the Roughriders in the regular season, including the final 12. But he left Saskatchewan’s regular-season finale Oct. 27 against the B.C. Lions in the second quarter after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit from defensive end Odell Willis.

Collaros, who dealt with head and neck injuries earlier in the season, didn’t return to the game and Bridge finished it.

After the Roughriders had a bye in the final week of the regular season, Collaros was on the field Wednesday when his team returned to practice. He took reps with the first-team offence during the week, but Bridge appeared to be more active during Friday’s workout.

On Saturday, Collaros said he knew who was starting against Winnipeg but wouldn’t say if it was him or Bridge. Neither would Jones.

“We’re just preparing two quarterbacks to play,” he said. “That way, if you need one or the other, you’ve got them … Quite honestly, you’re a play away from that happening every single week, so you’d better have two prepared.”

Bridge started four games in the regular season and posted a 2-2-0 record. He completed 55 of 82 pass attempts for 524 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his starts, and overall was 82-for-131 for 804 yards with one TD and three interceptions in eight games.

Collaros finished the regular season with 234 completions in 382 attempts for 2,999 yards with nine TDs and 13 interceptions.

•••

The Roughriders’ receiving corps gets a bit of a facelift Sunday.

Jordan Williams-Lambert moves outside to replace the injured Shaq Evans and slotback Naaman Roosevelt — who was a backup against the Lions — returns to the starting lineup.

Williams-Lambert isn’t concerned about his move to a different position than the one he played all season.

“Inside, there are different reads and there are different things you’re going to pay attention to, but for me, it’s still football,” he said this week. “I would assume there are some changes and differences in preparation.”

Roosevelt, meanwhile, is eager to get back into the starting lineup. He was sidelined with a knee injury for four games before returning to face the Lions, albeit as a reserve.

“I stayed here on the bye week to get my wind up and do everything I could to feel better,” Roosevelt said. “I’m feeling 100 per cent, ready to go.

“The team is feeling good. The energy is high, our spirits are high and we know what’s at stake. Just to have a home game in the playoffs is big for us. (The Bombers) have got to come to us and they’ve got to deal with our fans in our stadium.”

•••

LaBatte expects “a pile of energy” when the teams take the field Sunday, given the ferocity of the rivalry between the Roughriders and Bombers and between their respective home provinces.

The teams’ annual back-to-back series — the Labour Day Classic in Regina and the rematch the following weekend in Winnipeg — typically generates a lot of hype in both cities, so a playoff meeting between the squads likely will feature even more intensity.

When he was asked Saturday if that would be evident in the trenches, LaBatte replied: “That’s always there.”

“It’ll be a hard-hitting game, but unless something unforeseen happens and it turns into one of those dirty, chippy games, I’m expecting it to just be a hard, smash-mouth game in between the whistles and then we line up and we play it again,” LaBatte said. “I don’t foresee a whole bunch of trash talk unless that’s the way we’ve got to do business.”

•••

When the Roughriders and Bombers met in Winnipeg on Oct. 13, Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill had eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in his team’s 31-0 victory.

On Friday, a reporter started a question to Jones with the words: “Bighill was a big thorn in your side last time …”

“He’s a big thorn in everyone’s side all the time,” Jones interjected. “He’s one of the best football players in the league. But go ahead with your question.”

The rest of the question dealt with handling Bighill, who is the West Division’s nominee for the CFL award as the most outstanding defensive player.

“You’ve got to block him,” Jones said. “He can play in the middle of the defence and make plays sideline to sideline. Richie (Hall, Winnipeg’s defensive co-ordinator) has done a good job this year of trying to match (Bighill) on backs and get him in matchups where he can use his blitzing ability.

“He really didn’t do a lot of that over in B.C. (during his six seasons with the Lions), but now that they’ve utilized him, they see that he’s got a strength in doing it.”