REGINA - The Saskatchewan Roughriders improved the depth of their import receiving corps during the CFL off-season.
Judging by Thursday's rookie-camp workout at Mosaic Stadium, they didn't improve the height. The receivers on the field were Aaron Love (5-foot-8), Aaron Waldie (5-foot-9), Dwayne Eley Jr. (5-foot-10), Jeremy Gilchrist (5-foot-10) and Cary Koch (6-foot-0).
Head coach Ken Miller said one thing the Roughriders wanted to do in the off-season was increase the size of their import receivers - and 6-foot-5 veteran Prechae Rodriguez (acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and 6-foot-6 rookie Aaron Fairooz (who watched Thursday due to a hamstring injury) fit the bill.
The other rookies will have to do a lot to make sure they measure up. But even then ...
"Really, they're at a disadvantage because of the number of quality receivers we have as veterans, not so much their size," Miller said.
The Roughriders are loaded with non-import receivers like Rob Bagg, Jason Clermont, Andy Fantuz, Chris Getzlaf and David McKoy. But due to roster moves made through the off-season, Saskatchewan has just one import receiver - slotback Weston Dressler - who played a game with the team in '09.
That prompted the off-season search for import pass-catchers. Now that the recruits are in town, they all know they're up against it.
"I look at it as an excellent opportunity," Waldie said when asked if he felt like a longshot. "This is probably the top receiving corps in the CFL and coming in here and learning from Coach (Bob) Dyce first and then when those veterans get in here, it's going to be just an excellent learning experience for all of us.
"It may be a little tougher to make this team than some of the other teams with maybe not as good a receiving corps, but I'm up to the challenge. It's only going to bring out the best in me."
"I can't worry about numbers and everybody else," Eley added. "I can only worry about myself right now. So if I do that and know that I'm doing the best that I can do, the rest will come."
Their task was made difficult Thursday by the rain, which caused passes to frequently slip through receivers' hands or players to slip on the slick turf while making their moves.
Those aren't the kinds of things rookies should do if they're hoping to make a good impression on the coaches.
"With the weather, we didn't catch the ball as well as we need to catch," Miller said. "We need to make plays and making plays involves catching the football. We have to catch regardless of what the weather's doing."
Not surprisingly, the rookie receivers know that every dropped ball, every slip and fall, every improperly run route, is a strike against them.
"It's rough, but I've got to make an impression," said Eley, a 22-year-old product of Stony Brook University. "You've got to show that you want to be here, that you're willing to work hard and do whatever's being asked of you. If you do all that, things will work out."
Waldie said he knows he has to do "pretty much everything and anything" to make the team. A natural inside receiver, the graduate of Hillsdale College is taking reps at wide receiver in the hopes of catching the coaches' eyes.
"I trust my training and I trust my skills," Waldie said. "I want to catch everything I'm supposed to catch and catch a few of them I'm not supposed to catch. I want to know the playbook, too. That's always huge. The more positions I can learn and understand, the more they can use me."
And as for his supposed size disadvantage ...
"Yeah, they like big receivers, but more than anything, they like guys who can make plays," Waldie said. "That's what we're out here to do: Make as many plays as we can and help the team."
- Saskatchewan Roughriders