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The Riders’ tricky situation

Don't worry Wes! Darian will be back soon./Courtesy of the Saskatchewan Roughriders
Don’t worry Wes! Darian will be back soon./Courtesy of the Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Durant detractors are currently in hiding

Author: peter steele – contributor

Saskatchewan Roughriders QB Darian Durant has been injured since Sept. 7, and the team has been frantically looking for a replacement ever since. The coaching staff has switched sporadically between Tino Sunseri, Seth Doege, and the 41-year-old Kerry Joseph. The Roughriders are now 1-5 since losing Durant, and though the team is playoff bound, the franchise is scrambling, and the fans are on high alert.

The questions at quarterback continued against Edmonton on Oct. 19, as 2007 Roughrider Grey Cup Champion QB Kerry Joseph returned to Regina in a starting role, in place of Sunseri. At first, Joseph looked good, engineering an early TD drive topped off by a 17-yard TD throw to WR Brett Swain to grab the early lead. Joseph threw for 213 yards and two TDs, adding 21 yards on the ground, but the veteran’s effort was not enough, as the Riders ultimately fell 24-19 to the Eskimos.

At the age of 41, it is unlikely that Joseph has anything left to contribute past this season. At best, he can help the team reach the playoffs in rhythm with confidence, just in time for Durant to take over. The team owes their current playoff position to Durant’s play through their franchise-record seven game winning streak earlier this season and he is the only QB that can help the team win in the postseason. Rider fans are now left hoping.

Tino Sunseri should not be blamed for the Riders’ recent struggles. Consider the Montreal Alouette’s slump since Anthony Calvillo retired, or what the NFL’s Denver Broncos would look like if Peyton Manning were injured. Teams need their leaders to win, and general managers don’t keep comparable replacements on the bench. No franchise can afford that luxury, and certainly not in the CFL. Football teams are built over time, not thrown together in the short term.

Through 2014, since taking over for Durant, Sunseri has had a QB rating of 85.9. However, between 2008 and 2011, Durant’s QB rating ranged from 83.4 to 87.2. Quarterbacks take time to develop. This season’s disappointment has been a team effort that not even Kerry Joseph could correct. Fans underestimate the psychological effect of missing a leader, compounded by losing, negative energy in the locker room, and public opinion. Durant has been the leader since Kerry Joseph left after 2007, so it stands to reason that the team struggles without him now.

The Roughriders should keep Tino Sunseri at QB for the rest of 2014 to develop him into a functional future backup. It will not help to rush Durant back because the team is already uncoordinated. The focus should be on the future. The coaching staff should make use of the time at hand through the end of this season and playoffs to develop Sunseri into a backup who can grow with the team.

Until the organization finds a better option, the goal should be consistency for the benefit of the whole team, rather than trying to guess whom to start each week. Kerry Joseph provides a great story and some interest at the end of a rough season, but Sunseri presents real opportunity for future growth and security at the backup QB position. Regardless, the Durant haters are very quiet now.

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