September 14, 2023

Resilient Roughrider: Bad breaks don’t shake Philip Blake

When Philip Blake last played at Mosaic Stadium in a game of consequence, he emerged as a champion. 

The veteran offensive lineman was the Toronto Argonauts’ starting left tackle when they defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24-23 on Nov. 20 in Regina. 

Nearly 10 months later, Blake is poised to make his 2023 regular-season debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders after recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. He was injured during the Roughriders’ June 2 pre-season finale in Winnipeg. 

“I love playing here,” the Toronto-born Blake said on Thursday. “I tell guys, ‘If there’s one place to play in the CFL, it’s the Saskatchewan Roughriders.’ 

“I won a Grey Cup last year with Toronto. I tell the guys, ‘I won a Grey Cup in my hometown, but winning it here would be a lot more special.’ ” 

With that end game in mind, Blake is back in the lineup for the stretch run. He is listed as the sixth offensive lineman for Friday’s meeting with the Edmonton Elks (7:30 p.m., Mosaic Stadium). 

“He’s not 100 per cent now and I don’t know if he will get there, but he’s working through it,” Head Coach Craig Dickenson said. “He’s a tough guy and he wants to play. He feels like he’s able to play effectively and he has done a good job this week in practice. 

“We’re going to use him. We’re going to have some packages where we have six O-linemen.” 

The toughness to which Dickenson referred was also evident during Blake’s previous stint with Saskatchewan. 

“I’ve been known to recover fast, because the last time I was here, I broke my leg and I came back to finish the season,” he noted. “Shout-out to Dr. (Jordan) Buchko for cutting me open and fixing me two times.” 

Blake’s first stint with the Roughriders began on Oct. 10, 2018, when he was acquired from the Montreal Alouettes on the CFL’s trade deadline. 

On July 27, 2019, he suffered the aforementioned broken leg in a road game against the B.C. Lions. Despite the severity of that injury, he was able to return to the lineup with two weeks remaining in the regular season. 

Blake signed as a free agent with Toronto the following February, only to have the 2020 season wiped out by COVID-19. 

This past Feb. 14, he rejoined the Roughriders on Day 1 of the CFL’s free-agency period. When the injury bug bit once more, the trademark determination came to the fore yet again. 

“To me, it wasn’t going to be season-ending,” Blake said. “I was going to come back regardless. 

“They told me from the jump that I could come back toward the end of the year, so my goal was (the Sept. 9 game in Winnipeg). I missed it by one week.” 

Saskatchewan’s starting offensive line on Friday will consist of centre Peter Godber, left guard Evan Johnson, right guard Logan Ferland, left tackle Eric Lofton and right tackle Brandon Council. 

The versatile Blake started at left guard in the pre-season opener and at left tackle the following week in Winnipeg. Ideally, the Roughriders’ coaches like to deploy him as a guard, but Johnson and Ferland hold down the starting spots at that position. 

“Evan is playing well and Logan is playing well,” Dickenson explained. “We feel like Philip is a guy we want on the field, but he’s coming off an injury. We feel like in a week or two, he maybe pushes those guys for a starting spot. Right now, we feel like his best spot is coming in as the sixth.” 

Blake is about to become the 10th offensive lineman to suit up for Saskatchewan this season.  

The others are Johnson, Ferland, Godber, Lofton, Council, Logan Bandy, Zack Fry, Jerald Hawkins, Colin Kelly. Everyone except Ferland has missed at least one game.