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ROB VANSTONE: Cody Fajardo provides some hope for Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo has rushed for a touchdown in each of the team's first three games of 2019.
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo has rushed for a touchdown in each of the team's first three games of 2019.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are off to an 0-2 start, but a standout performance by quarterback Cody Fajardo has fostered some optimism.

So much for the punt-by-numbers offence.

Led by quarterback Cody Fajardo , the Saskatchewan Roughriders provided their fans with a desperately needed and rather unexpected respite from the typical tedium.

Making his first CFL start, Fajardo threw for 360 yards on Thursday in the Roughriders’ 44-41 loss to the host Ottawa Redblacks.

Although Saskatchewan’s record fell to 0-2, there was a triumphant tenor to much of the post-game commentary, thanks to the 27-year-old quarterback.

For the time being, at least, Fajardo has eased concerns about the Roughriders’ viability at football’s most important position.

Quarterbacking was a gigantic question mark leading up to the 2019 season, considering the well-established fragility and inconsistency of incumbent Zach Collaros .

Collaros was injured on the season’s third offensive play while absorbing a hit to the head from Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence on June 13.

With Collaros on the six-game injured list, the Roughriders initially intended to alternate two quarterbacks — Fajardo and rookie Isaac Harker — on Thursday at TD Place.

Plans for a rotation were quickly altered, however, when Fajardo’s precise passes left the Redblacks’ heads spinning.

Harker watched from the sideline while Fajardo demonstrated that he could, in fact, throw downfield with accuracy, authority and ambition.

There were doubts as to whether Fajardo could attack a defence in such an assertive manner after just two of his 17 passes travelled more than 10 yards downfield during the 23-17 loss in Hamilton.

At halftime of that game, Fajardo had a mere 18 yards passing.

It looked like more of the same sludge from the Roughriders, who eked out a league-worst 11 touchdown passes in 2018 with the conventionally conservative Stephen McAdoo calling the plays.

Early in Thursday’s contest, it did not appear that the offence was destined for an explosive outing.

William Powell ran for a four-yard gain on the Roughriders’ first offensive play. On second-and-six, Fajardo’s short throw sailed over the head of the intended receiver, Naaman Roosevelt.

“I missed my first pass early,” Fajardo told the Regina Leader-Post’s Murray McCormick. “I was pretty amped up and I missed it high and outside.”

Ball one.

“After that,” Fajardo continued, “the coaches on the sidelines and the offence were very supportive of me. It was really cool to come to the sideline and hear, ‘We believe in you.’ I settled in and I was able to feel comfortable back there in the pocket.”

In the process, Fajardo created discomfort for the Redblacks’ defensive backs while attacking them with passes that travelled an average of 11-plus yards.

“Watching the Hamilton tape, I saw that a lot of it was short passes,” Fajardo noted. “I figured that they’d be sitting at the (yard)sticks and sitting on our short passes, so one of my goals was to push the ball downfield and show teams and opposing defensive co-ordinators that we’re not afraid to throw the ball downfield.

“I think our receivers did a great job of making contested catches down the field. We showed what we can do on offence, but obviously it wasn’t good enough.”

It was enough, mind you, to excite the fans and commentators who were rightfully concerned about the state of the offence after Collaros was felled.

There were flashbacks to Week 1 injuries sustained by Kent Austin (who suffered a partially separated shoulder in 1991) and Darian Durant (ruptured Achilles tendon, 2015).

In both cases, the Roughriders’ season was sunk after their marquee quarterback was injured.

At 0-2, the Green and White is hardly in parade-planning mode, but the season does not appear to be bereft of hope now that the “Fajardoffence” has been unveiled, to rave reviews.

The greater concern, at this juncture, is an experienced defence that was lacerated by Redblacks quarterback Dominique Davis.

Saskatchewan’s special teams, traditionally an area of strength under the tutelage of Craig Dickenson , are suddenly vulnerable.

Those deficiencies have not escaped the attention of devotees who inhabit Rider Nation, but m any people who called CKRM and CJME to yak on the open-line shows Thursday night were upbeat about the offence and, in particular, Fajardo.

Granted, those effusive assessments were based on a small sample of evidence. But the fan base, remember, had become inured to the smallest of gains.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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