Saturday, 2 July 2016

Durant gives Roughriders hope

Darian Durant sets to throw a pass at Roughriders training camp in 2015.
    Darian Durant’s presence on the field gives the Saskatchewan Roughriders hope that 2016 has the potential to be more than just a rebuilding year.
    On Thursday night, the Roughriders star quarterback played his first full regular season game from start to finish in about 20 months. Before Thursday night, the last time Durant started and finished a game came back on August 31, 2014, when the Roughriders pulled out a thrilling 35-30 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the annual Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium.
    In Saskatchewan’s next game on Sept. 7, 2014, Durant tore a tendon in his right elbow in a 30-24 victory over the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg. The injury sidelined him for the rest of that campaign.
    He returned for the 2015 regular season opener at Mosaic on June 27. Shortly before halftime, Durant ruptured his left Achilles tendon throwing the ball on a play where he wasn’t contacted.
    He was lost for the rest of that season, and the Roughriders lost that game 30-26 to the Blue Bombers and stumbled into the basement of the CFL with a 3-15 record.
Darian Durant lies injured on the Mosaic Stadium turf on June 27, 2015.
    Before those two big injuries, Durant has cemented himself as a Roughriders legend guiding the team to a Grey Cup championship at home in 2013 and Grey Cup appearances as a starter in 2009 and 2010. He was also part of the Roughriders 2007 Grey Cup championship team as a third stringer.
    Going into the 2016 season opener, Rider Nation was unsure what they would see, when Durant took the field at Mosaic against the Toronto Argonauts. The Florence, South Carolina, product turns 34 on August 19, so age is starting to become a concern.
    After going such a lengthy stretch since last playing a full game, one had to wonder if Durant could still be a star signal caller. Plus, the Roughriders had a new coaching staff and turned over about two-thirds of their roster from the 2015 campaign.
    Actually, very few players remain with Saskatchewan from the last time Durant started and finished a contest in 2014.
Darian Durant fires a pass downfield training camp in 2015.
    Against the Argos on Thursday night, Durant looked like himself. He completed 31 of 48 passes for 310 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Had it not been for a number of dropped passes, Durant could have eclipsed the 400-yard mark through the air.
    The Roughriders ultimately fell 30-17, but there was a pre-game fear the score of the first contest with Durant back under centre could have been more lopsided in favour of the opposition.
    Toronto claimed victory thanks to a couple of breaks. First, they were set up at the Saskatchewan five yard line thanks to a long punt return, which allowed Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray to throw a short TD toss to slotback Audre Durie early in the first quarter.
    Second, Roughriders backup quarterback Bryant Moniz fumbled the ball away on a short yardage third down gamble in the second quarter, which allowed Argos defensive back Matt Black to return the ball 27 yards for another major score. That score allowed the Argos to go ahead 21-7.
    Despite those big plays from the visitors, Durant was spreading the ball all over the field showing he has a good handle on the system new head coach Chris Jones and his staff have implemented. You started to think Durant might rally the Roughriders all the way back like he had done on numerous occasions in the past. In the end, too many drives stalled out resulting in field goals during the comeback attempt.
    Still, Durant inspired hope that he might be the wildcard in the Roughriders fortunes in 2016. Durant’s play brought back memories of his first CFL start way back on July 12, 2008, when he threw the Roughriders to a thrilling 33-28 road victory over the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton.
    You also remembered his amazing five touchdown pass performance in a spectacular 54-51 double overtime victory over the Montreal Alouettes in the 2010 season opener on July 1 at Mosaic. He also had three classic performances in the 2013 playoffs helping lead the Roughriders to a Grey Cup championship.
Darian Durant calls signals for the Roughriders on Thursday night.
    Actually, it would be easy to create an NFL style top 10 style list of the best Darian Durant games from his time in Rider Nation.
    Expectations aren’t high this season for the Roughriders. A lot of fans expect the club to finish the campaign with a losing record.
    Durant is the best quarterback the Roughriders have had since the iconic Ron Lancaster retired following the 1978 season. As the current campaign progresses, Durant will develop a higher comfort level with a group of receivers he hasn’t worked a lot with outside of veteran Rob Bagg.
    It would not be a surprise if Durant creates new entries to his list of top 10 best games. With Durant at the controls of the Roughriders offence, he creates belief that the team has a chance to win on any given night and that the 2016 campaign won’t be a lost cause.

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