SASKATOON, Sask.— Jamal Morrow and James Butler have spent the majority of Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp running in the shadows of the team’s veteran tailbacks.
The international rookies are trying to crack the active roster of a CFL team that features established tailbacks like William Powell, Marcus Thigpen and Kienan LaFrance. There are only so many repetitions in training camp and many of those are directed toward the veterans.
That should change Friday when the Riders travel to Calgary to play the Stampeders in the first pre-season game of the 2019 season for both teams. Powell, Thigpen and LaFrance aren’t expected to play, which opens the door for Butler and Morrow to strut their stuff.
“I have to show them that I’m in shape and I have to show myself on special teams,” Morrow said. “When I’m in the game, I have to be solid on pass protection because if you’re not, you can’t do anything in this league. I want to be able to execute, show them that I know this offence and I can handle anything that they throw at me.”
Butler is looking forward to facing an opponent besides his teammates.
“It will be a change of pace from training camp, but it’s still football,” Butler said. “There are some differences, but at running back a lot of things are the same and the thing that matters the most is protection.”
Earning a roster spot will be a challenge for Butler and Morrow based on the veterans ahead of them on the depth chart.
“They both have to show up on special teams and that will be their ticket,” said Riders head coach Craig Dickenson. “Powell will be our starting back. Thigpen will get a lot of touches and we have a Canadian in LaFrance, who is our ratio guy. One of (Butler or Morrow) will make the team, but a lot of it will depend on their ability to play special teams.”
Butler and Morrow are both aware of the depth chart and how it impacts their chances of making the Riders’ roster.
“You have to control what you can control,” Butler said. “I have to play my game and hope for the best. All I can control is my attitude, how I attack every day and practice and play in these games.”
Butler and Morrow both have impressive resumes.
Butler split time between the University of Nevada and Iowa, rushing for a combined 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns along with 53 receptions for 485 yards and three touchdowns.
He signed with the Oakland Raiders after spending one year with the Iowa Hawkeyes. The 24-year-old tailback didn’t dress for an NFL game and was released after spending the 2018 season on the Raiders’ practice roster.
Morrow, 24, hasn’t played a competitive game since the 2017 Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 with the Washington State Huskies. He suffered a broken foot during Washington’s 42-17 loss to Michigan State.
“It’s all good to go and I haven’t had any problems with it,” Morrow said. “I’m back to myself and playing football.”
Morrow’s versatility suits the CFL. He played four years at Washington State, rushing 316 times for 1,795 yards and nine touchdowns while recording 202 receptions for 1,748 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He also had 24 kickoff returns for 476 yards and 22 punt returns for 200 yards. The versatile back ranks third in Washington State history with 4,219 all-purpose yards.
Morrow has also looked sharp catching passes in training camp.
“It has always come naturally being a receiver out of the backfield,” Morrow said. “I take pride in being a complete running back and not just showing that I can catch the ball. I can run in the trenches and pass protect as well.”
Morrow and Butler aren’t worried about the pressure that comes with playing in a pre-season game.
“I’m excited because I rise to the occasion and I don’t fall from it,” Morrow said. “The more pressure they put on me, the more I show up.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019