Top News

Saskatchewan Roughriders counting on tailback William Powell

William Powell, shown scoring a touchdown for the Ottawa Redblacks against the host Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, is expected to carry the load for the Green and White in 2019.
William Powell, shown scoring a touchdown for the Ottawa Redblacks against the host Saskatchewan Roughriders last season, is expected to carry the load for the Green and White in 2019. - Mark Taylor/Postmedia

William Powell’s signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders transpired without a great deal of fanfare.

That reaction was a surprise considering Powell is among the league’s best running backs. As a premier free agent, his signing was a coup for the Riders.

The focus, however, on the opening day of the 2019 CFL free-agent period was on quarterbacks and their six-figure contracts. For those reasons, some free-agent signings — such as that of Powell — were overshadowed.

Powell’s signing was significant because it addresses a void at tailback. Tre Mason has been lost for the 2019 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Riders’ regular-season finale.

Mason led the Riders’ rushing attack in 2018 with 809 yards and three touchdowns and added 21 receptions for 103 yards.

Cameron Marshall, who came on later in the season, filed for free agency and remains unsigned.

The lone running back returning from the 2018 Riders is Marcus Thigpen, who signed a contract extension through the 2019 season.

Powell, a two-time East Division all-star with the Ottawa Redblacks, is an immediate upgrade to the Riders’ ground game.

In 2018, he led the CFL in carries (251) and was second in rushing yards (1,362). He chipped in six rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns while dressing for 16 games.

The previous year, he ran for 1,026 yards and five rushing touchdowns in 12 games.

Powell (5-foot-8 and 210 pounds) is a compact combination of speed and power with good hands out of the backfield. He’s also an elite blocker which, combined with the Riders’ improved offensive line, should provide better protection for their quarterbacks.

He’ll require defences to respect the running game, an aspect that was lacking even though the Riders finished second in rushing yards (with 2,014) in 2018.

At the very least, the Riders won’t have to face Powell. In four regular-season games and one playoff contest, he has rushed for 537 yards and three touchdowns on 81 carries versus the Green and White.

Thigpen remains a big-play threat at running back, out of the backfield as a receiver, and as a returner.

Last season, he was first among the Riders’ running backs in rushing touchdowns (four) and yards per carry (8.5) and was second in rushing yards (408). He also had touchdown runs of 82 and 80 yards and, with that breakaway capability, should provide a nice change of pace to Powell.

Jamal Morrow, a rookie out of Washington State, rounds out the Riders’ international running backs. Morrow played tailback and also returned kickoffs and punts in four seasons with the Huskies.

Kienan LaFrance returns to the Riders after spending the 2018 season with his hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He dressed for 16 games, recording 36 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

He previously signed with the Riders as a free agent in 2017 after two seasons with Ottawa. LaFrance dressed for 13 games in Saskatchewan, recording 68 carries for 278 yards and two touchdowns.

LaFrance provides depth at running back and is also expected to be a key contributor on special teams.

The Riders are looking for a fullback after trading veteran Spencer Moore to the Montreal Alouettes during the off-season for a conditional pick in the 2020 CFL draft.

Moore played 81 regular-season games through six seasons with the Riders after being selected in the fifth round (44th overall) of the 2013 CFL draft out of McMaster. As a rookie, he was part of the Roughriders’ 2013 championship team.

The versatile Patrick Lavoie could fill in, if needed. The Riders acquired the 31-year-old Lavoie, who can play fullback and slotback, from Montreal last season at the CFL’s trade deadline. He is also a stellar special-teams player.

Another internal option is Albert Awachie, a national fullback who is heading into his third season with the Riders. His steady improvement allowed the team to move Moore.

Fullbacks haven’t played a huge role in the Riders’ offensive scheme, but they are all being counted on to contribute on special teams.

mmccormick@postmedia.com

twitter.com/murraylp

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories