Vanstone: Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp is FINALLY here


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The temperature hovered round 30 levels, with the UV Index within the eights, on a day that felt like Christmas.

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On a scorching, summery, Santa-esque Saturday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders opened their 2021 training camp.

It was a landmark event just because, as a consequence of COVID-19, there wasn’t a 2020 training camp.

And, for logistical causes dictated by the coronavirus, the CFL staff’s return to the sphere is happening in Regina as an alternative of at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.

Fans aren’t but permitted on the exercises — hopefully that may quickly change — however the media is allowed on the premises, albeit at a snug distance away from any dwelling, respiratory soul who occurs to be resplendent in inexperienced.

It was troublesome for this wrinkled reporter to not be an all-out fan on Saturday. There was, it’s best to know, steadfast adherence to the unwritten rule, “No cheering in the press box.”

But there was an irresistible temptation to sit down again and savour the environment, a broad smile compliantly hid by a masks that, because of the upcoming enjoyable of restrictions, will likely be emphatically discarded in time for Sunday’s session.

Ordinarily, this curmudgeonly columnist is somewhat blasé about training camp, which will be illusory.

Much fuss is product of gamers who seem like Jeff Fairholm early in training camp, solely to be handed a one-way ticket dwelling nicely earlier than video games of consequence start.

Impatience has additionally been identified to take over. “Enough of the preliminaries. Get to the main event.” That form of factor.

Not this yr. Not after, football-wise, there wasn’t a final yr.

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I couldn’t wait to get to Mosaic Stadium on Saturday — a mere 600 days after I had beforehand visited the press field.

The view from the Mosaic Stadium press box on Saturday.
The view from the Mosaic Stadium press field on Saturday. Photo by Rob Vanstone /Regina Leader-Post

Things have been just a little totally different on Nov. 17, 2019, when the Roughriders had final gathered, en masse, on the inexperienced expanse of synthetic turf.

Personally, I couldn’t assist however consider Mom, who was nonetheless alive when the Roughriders misplaced 20-13 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers within the 2019 West Division last.

A devotee of the Roughriders since 1956, when she had moved to Canada from England, Mom was so upset when Cody Fajardo’s cross related with the crossbar, as an alternative of touchdown within the palms of slotback Kyran Moore, on the Roughriders’ fateful last play of 2019.

“But they had a good year,” Mom, at all times optimistic, advised me on the evening of Nov. 17, 2019. “It’s not every year that they finish in first place.”

Mom died of congestive coronary heart failure simply 24 days after the crushing loss to Winnipeg.

Three months later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a world pandemic.

With that in thoughts, there was a sombre observe to Saturday’s proceedings. Upon getting into the press field, I couldn’t assist however discover the absence of a terrific buddy named Warren Woods, who died of COVID-19 in January.

Woodsy at all times sat within the second row of the press field, on the far left facet. He was invariably one of many first folks I noticed once I shuffled towards my seat.

So, on Saturday, I nodded a hi there to him, anyway. I do know that he, too, would have loved this present day, whereas making it much more nice for the opposite denizens of the press field.

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Seat 22 in the Mosaic Stadium press box, where the late Warren Woods used to sit during Saskatchewan Roughriders games.
Seat 22 within the Mosaic Stadium press field, the place the late Warren Woods used to sit down throughout Saskatchewan Roughriders video games. Photo by Rob Vanstone /Regina Leader-Post

I additionally considered my buddy Robert Watson, who photographed many a training camp on behalf of my favorite newspaper. He, too, contracted COVID and finally handed away.

As a facet gig, Bob used to deal with the pictures for my annual canine Christmas card, which invariably showcased a Scottish terrier and his proud proprietor(s).

So, yeah, it felt like Christmas on Saturday.

It was a terrific reward to have the ability to cowl stay sports activities once more after being largely disadvantaged of that privilege for the previous 16 months.

It was a tonic to observe over a exercise that represented a lot greater than X’s and O’s. After all, what might higher symbolize a return to normalcy than the sight of the Roughriders at their $278-million pigskin palace — a non-Christmas reward from the provincial authorities, the City of Regina, and the taxpaying public?

Saturday’s exercise was something however taxing, particularly after what had transpired shortly earlier than camp opened. Just a few dozen gamers hit the sphere for a casual, pre-camp session that left two CFL veterans and two rookies with torn Achilles tendons within the house of six minutes.

Without coaches being allowed to oversee, nary an authority determine was apparently available to name a halt to an ill-advised drill — reportedly one thing that had concerned medication balls and quick bursts — till center linebacker Larry Dean, defensive finish Freddie Bishop III, defensive again Nelson Lokombo AND operating again Jonathan Femi-Cole had sustained critical accidents.

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The Roughriders had deliberate to proceed cautiously within the early days of camp even earlier than accidents grew to become, fairly actually, an Achilles heel.

After Thursday, there was the crucial of exercising even higher care, the medical story having tempered a few of the pleasure that had accompanied the opening of camp.

But it nonetheless felt nice to be there, and to view Fajardo, Shaq Evans, Dan Clark, A.C. Leonard and associates from the consolation of the press field — the place one other A.C., as in Air Conditioning — was additionally welcomed.

The Roughriders exercised such nice care on Saturday that the quarterbacks (none of whom occurred to be former NFL first-round draft alternative Paxton Lynch) dropped again, however by no means threw, early within the scheduled 135-minute session whereas the receivers ran their patterns in opposition to … nicely, completely no one.

The defence labored out on the different finish of the sphere. This was all being executed within the peak warmth of the day, for some cause.

On the sideline, punter Jon Ryan demonstrated that he is one of many few 39-year-olds in Canada who can increase a leg to eye stage. It is to marvel.

Who regarded good? Who struggled?

At this level, with pantomime practices happening in entrance of our very eyes, who can say with any certainty?

However, we will guarantee you that each receiver was open — as was Mosaic Stadium, in the end. And that was greater than sufficient for in the future.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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