Riders running back battle too close to call

June 19, 2014 - 1:52pm Updated: June 20, 2014 - 2:00pm
Running back Jermaine Thomas works on his blocking. Joel Gasson/CJME
Running back Jermaine Thomas works on his blocking. Joel Gasson/CJME

There are still a number of jobs to be won on the 46-man roster for the Riders but none are more interesting and competitive than finding the man who will carry the rock.

Since Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets signed with the Oakland Raiders in the off-season, the question has been who will run the ball for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2014. The contenders were narrowed down by two last week after Curtis McNeal and Clifton Smith were released after the Riders first pre-season game. Now it's down to Keith Toston, Anthony Allen and Jermaine Thomas.

"It's extremely close. We got an extremely diverse group of guys but they're all great at what they do," said running backs coach Avon Cobourne.

It's so close that all three will actually get a chance to run behind the starting offensive line during Friday's game. If you look at just the numbers, it appears that Thomas has some catching up to do after rushing for just 22 yards on six carries compared to 58 yards on three carries for Toston, and 42 yards on eight carries for Allen.

Thomas, however, isn't feeling the pressure.

"I look at it as, I need to make the most out of this play, this opportunity that I do have the ball." said Thomas.

Toston may have made an extra impact on the coaching staff when he ran over RedBlacks defensive back Antoine Pruneau, a follow up to him lowering the boom on now-defensive end Morty Ivy during training camp.

"It was exciting man. I love a physical back," said Cobourne, who admitted Toston raised the bar for physicality for the other two with that play. "He ran through him twice actually."

Toston may have helped his cause in that game too. Corboune explained Toston came into the game fourth on the depth chart and now finds himself in the mix for the starting job.

It appears that Toston could be in the driver's seat but it's certainly still too close to call.

The good news for Thomas is that the coaching staff is looking at more than just the rushing numbers when evaluating the running backs. Being behind the Riders offensive line gives any running back a good start at racking up big numbers. But more importantly, the coaching staff wants to see who can keep quarterback Darian Durant on his feet.

"I already know they can, it's just recognizing what it is," said Cobourne. "I know they're not scared, that's pretty much the biggest part of pass protection is wanting to do it. Without a great quarterback we're pretty much just out there running around."

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