REGINA — Whether the Saskatchewan Roughriders believe they’re playing for next year or just fielding the best team they can this season, Nic Demski is a big part of either scenario.
The rookie receiver feels he fits in with the youth movement, should that be the direction the team takes for the remainder of the season now that a playoff berth seems unattainable.
The Roughriders sport a 1-10 record entering play on Saturday when they host the Ottawa Redblacks (6-4) at Mosaic Stadium. The playoff picture for Saskatchewan faded a little more after a deflating defeat in Winnipeg one week after the team picked up its first win of the season over the Blue Bombers in the Labour Day Classic.
“It has been frustrating at times, but it’s all about learning and getting better,” said Desmki, the Riders’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft (sixth overall). “This is only my rookie season, so I can’t expect too much of myself. But when I do get in there I know I have to capitalize on my chances and do what I can to help this team win.”
Veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn was appointed by interim head coach Bob Dyce as the starter for Saturday’s game against Ottawa. Glenn has recovered from a partially torn pectoral muscle and will replace rookie Brett Smith under centre. Smith struggled in the 22-7 loss in Winnipeg and completed just 13 of 22 pass attempts for 114 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked five times.
While that first-year player has his role reduced to a backup, Demski will be active in a variety of ways for the Riders, much like he has been all season.
The six-foot, 215-pound former University of Manitoba standout has shone brightest this season on special teams. He has racked up a combined 266 yards in kickoff and punt returns, including a 60-yard punt return on Labour Day for his first CFL touchdown.
He also has played a role as a receiver and a runner on offence, with nine receptions for 134 yards and five rushes for 41 yards.
Natural athleticism will continue to carry to Demski forward at the professional level, but having the opportunity to learn from CFL veterans like Weston Dressler, Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg has paid dividends in his development.
“Those guys have really helped me this year,” Demski said. “Even just watching them — they don’t even have to speak to me directly — but just watching what they do and say in the film room and then hearing all of the tips and tricks they pass along to me during practices has been great. It’s a good group to learn from, for sure. And it has been so helpful for me to join such a veteran corps.”
Bagg takes ownership of the nurturing process for the young players on the team.
“The guys around here do things the right way and I think for Nic to be able to see that on a daily basis is definitely helpful,” said Bagg, an eight-year veteran. “Just helping to slow the game down for him and watching film with him every day and talking with him on field can help too.
“He’s a great guy to work with and it makes it really easy for us. He’s a good dude, and amazing athlete and he’s going to have great future in this league.”
Demski will have a chance to watch arguably the league’s most explosive receiving corps in action on Saturday. Brad Sinopoli (625 yards), Ernest Jackson (577 yards) and Chris Williams (548 yards), three Ottawa receivers who are among the top 15 at their position this season in terms of receiving yards.
Bagg feels Demski can achieve stardom in the CFL. In fact, he has already noticed a steady climb in the rookie’s ability since training camp in June.
“He has continued to make plays,” Bagg said. “He has shown us a steady progression of learning the playbook, learning his assignments. He has always been a playmaker because of his natural talent. I think he has got better since training camp and I think he works hard enough to make a solid career for himself.”
Craig Slater, The Canadian Press