Henry Burris has jumped on the Cody Fajardo bandwagon with both feet.
The CFL on TSN analyst and former Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback was on the sideline when Fajardo threw for 360 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for another as his Riders lost 44-41 to the host Ottawa Redblacks on June 20.
With the Toronto Argonauts visiting the Roughriders on Monday, Burris doesn’t expect a drop-off in Fajardo’s production. The Argonauts (0-1) are coming off a 64-14 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday.
“(Fajardo) has the perfect recipe to have success once again,” Burris said Thursday from Ottawa. “They are playing an Argos team that is struggling and defensively everybody expected much more from that team as a whole. How Toronto played was a big disappointment. We all thought that Hamilton was better than Toronto, but not 64-14 better.
“The biggest difference for Cody is he will be playing against a young secondary. The CFL is a passing league and when you have a bunch of young, new faces on the back end, that equals a loss in itself.”
Fajardo, a career backup and short-yardage quarterback, was pressed into duty during the Riders’ 23-17 loss in Hamilton on June 13. Starting quarterback Zach Collaros was hit in the head by Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence on the Riders’ third offensive play of the regular-season opener.
Collaros (concussion) was placed on the six-game injured list on June 16 and that led to Fajardo making his first CFL start, against the Redblacks.
“His play-making ability was impressive,” Burris said. “He threw some great deep balls, showed some accuracy and arm strength. To me, when things didn’t happen and Ottawa brought the pressure against him, he never gave up. He’s a competitor.”
Burris knows all about competition after spending 18 seasons in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders, Tiger-Cats, Roughriders and Redblacks. He won three Grey Cups, including the 2016 game with Ottawa, after which he retired.
Against the Redblacks, Riders head coach Craig Dickenson initially stated he would deploy a quarterback rotation of Fajardo and rookie Isaac Harker. Dickenson later said that Fajardo would start and Harker would see some playing time. Those plans were shelved once Fajardo settled into a rhythm.
“I wanted to stay on the field because that’s when our offence thrives,” Fajardo said. “Personally, as a competitor, I want to go down and score on every drive I can or at least get points whenever I can.
“For me, (being replaced) wasn’t even in my mindset. I like Isaac a lot. He has helped my game and I’ve helped his game and we feed off each other.”
Offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo opened up the Riders’ offence with Fajardo at quarterback. That philosophy was evident in the final 19 seconds of the second quarter against the Redblacks.
Rather than running out the clock, Fajardo connected with Kyran Moore on a 31-yard pass. One play later, Fajardo found Shaq Evans for a 44-yard touchdown strike with four seconds left in the quarter. After Brett Lauther’s convert, the Riders trailed 31-24 heading into the halftime break.
“The way he closed out the second quarter with the clock running out was huge,” Burris said. “It showed me a lot of guts within that young guy. If he continues to do that, he will win the hearts of the guys in that locker room. The one thing that team needs right now is somebody to give them hope and he’s on the right track.”
Burris then offered some advice to help keep Fajardo on track.
“It’s just getting him to settle down in the pocket and relax his feet a little bit,” Burris said. “It was his first start so you know that he was going to have happy feet and he’s going to be all over the place on certain plays with his reads.
“When things weren’t going their way, he did a magnificent job. Mentally he has everything down. It’s just the physical part where he has to relax and go into the second-start phase where he knows that he has been there and done it and that he can do it again.”
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