Looking to build on an inconsistent 2011 season, one which saw the team make the playoffs for the eleventh straight year despite struggling with new personnel on offence, the University of Saskatchewan Huskie football team comes into spring camp with new faces and a renewed enthusiasm.
The Huskies are hoping to improve on their 5-3 finish from last season and keep up with the other top teams Canada West by recruiting heavily in positions that were young or thin last year. A quick look at the recruiting list reveals that the team sought to get better and deeper at the running back and offensive line positions, in particular.
The Huskies introduced four new running backs and six offensive linemen at the Dogs’ Breakfast. Not only do the Huskies need better performances from these units, they also need to account for the loss of another offensive all-Canadian, guard Ben Heenan as well as the losses of fifth-year seniors like guard Darren Hinds and tailback Ben Coakwell.
The Huskies need to be better, overall, and keep playing at a high level even when they face injuries. It looks like they have the depth at most positions to do that, but is the experience level where it needs to be for them to challenge for their first Hardy Cup title since 2006? Let’s look at each position and see where they stand going into spring camp.
Key losses: Trent Peterson
Key additions: Matt Bonaca (Salisbury – Edmonton), Chase Bradshaw (Saskatoon Hilltops)
Synopsis: The Huskies rotated Jahlani Gilbert-Knorren and the departed Trent Peterson last year, with each looking brilliant one play, while struggling the next. JGK will be looking to lock down this position with improved play in the pocket, but he will face a tough challenge from 2011 red-shirt Drew Burko, the tall, pocket-passer who impressed many with his play on the show team last season, especially late in the year. Chase Bradshaw has come over after graduating from the Hilltops, and should provide a positive veteran presence for the young quarterbacks, while giving the team another option while waiting for the young players to develop.
Key losses: Ben Coakwell, Alex Balogun
Key additions: Devin Logan (WJ Mouat – Abbotsford), Jarvis James (Bishop O’Byrne – Calgary)
Synopsis: Second-year player Dexter Janke, who finished with 307 yards rushing in his first year on the roster, will come into camp at the top of the depth chart. Jeremy Andrew, who red-shirted last season after injuring himself late in the 2010 season, will be Janke’s primary competition, although newcomers such as high school stars Devin Logan, Jarvis James and Drew Bexson could all work themselves onto the roster with strong camps.
Key losses: Rory Kohlert, Garrett Bolen
Key additions: Brydon Ozmun (Team Sask – Nipawin), Deion Bain (Mouat – Abbotsford)
Synopsis: If they can stay healthy, the Huskies appear to have among the best set of receivers in the Canada West. Second-year player Jerit Lambert will be relied upon to take a starting role, although he and fellow veterans Mitch Stevens and Kit Hillis will likely sit out spring camp while recovering from injuries. Jeff Moore and Garrett Burgess finished second and third on the team last season in terms of catches and yards, and will be big parts of the passing game again this year. Watch for Christian Gottenbos, who had a great 2011 camp and could be a sleeper for a roster spot. Don’t be surprised to see a couple additions to the receiving corps between spring and fall camps.
Key losses: Ben Heenan, Darren Hinds
Key additions: Lane Bryksa (Saskatoon Hilltops), Drew Digout (Okanagan Sun)
Synopsis: What is usually an area of strength on the Huskies was an area of disarray last season, as injuries once again took their toll, forcing veteran guards Ben Heenan and Darren Hinds to the tackle positions. While it wasn’t optimal to start a rookie on the o-line, Jordan Arkko held his own and ended up being named Canada West Rookie of the Year. Evan Greff, who red-shirted last year, will be in the running for the left-tackle positions, while Cam Redl, who recovered last season after knee surgery, will be back to challenge for his old right-tackle position. Former PFC all-star Lane Bryksa will push for a spot, while former BCFC all-star and CJFL all-Canadian Drew Digout will also make a case for playing time. Keep an eye out for 2011 recruit Clinton Reeder, who has worked hard to get in shape and will be a real possibility for a travel roster spot come the fall.
Key losses: Steve Kovach, Jon DeWitt
Key additions: Brayden Twarynski (Team Alberta – Calgary), Caleb Eidsvick (Team Alberta – Lloydminster)
Synopsis: This could be the strongest unit on the team, even though they lost excellent players in tackle Steve Kovach, who has retired, and defensive end Jon DeWitt. They return tackle David Rybinski, who has a good chance of being drafted into the CFL, as well as tackle/end Zach Hart and end Joel Seutter, who will both be in their fourth seasons. Levi Steinhauer will provide speed off the edge, as will third-year player Ben Rush. Keep an eye on the tackle positions, where 2011 red-shirt players Glen Joorisity and Dylan Wright will be pushing for playing time, building on solid winter practices.
Key losses: Tony Michalchuk, Nico Higgs, Tom Lynch, Brodie Rothe
Key additions: Kris Charuk (Balfour – Regina), Mike Dejarlais (Team Saskatchewan – Regina)
Synopsis: In spite of losing starters Tony Michalchuk and Nico Higgs, the Huskies linebacking corps will be solid thanks to three strong recruiting classes now ready to contribute starters and role players. Fifth-year leader Peter Thiel may be back if he doesn’t end up sticking with the Edmonton Eskimos. Charlie Power is ready to be a full-time starter, playing very well in the game action he saw in 2011. Dane Bishop has rebounded from an illness that sidelined him last season, and depth at defensive back may mean a return of Seamus Neary to linebacker. Ron Mwamba is returning to the team after a year with the Edmonton Wildcats, and players such as Thomas Hilderman, Jaques Geyer and Jordan Hilgers will push for roster spots, if not starting positions.
Key losses: None
Key additions: Braxton Lawrence (Saskatoon Hilltops), Keegan Arnyek (Team Saskatchewan – Moose Jaw)
Synopsis: Although there aren’t any losses to this group as of spring camp, this could change drastically if CFL teams decide to keep safety Bryce McCall and cornerback Keenan MacDougall. If one or both of these players returns, the Huskies will have arguably the best secondary in the Canada West, with fourth-year halfback Luke Thiel and fifth-year cornerback Mitch Friesen back to anchor this unit. Braxton Lawrence is a major addition and should earn a starting role. Players such as Geoff Hughes, Andrew Abbs, Tyler Robson and Cory Edington are ready to step in and will push the veterans for starting roles. This area could feature some of the best battles at spring camp.
Key losses: Steve McDonald
Key additions: Keegan Arnyek (Team Saskatchewan – Moose Jaw), Deion Bain (Mouat – Abbotsford)
Synopsis: The Huskies return strong special teams units, especially when it comes to kick and punt returns. Luke Thiel was an all-star kick returner two years ago, while Kit Hillis, Garrett Burgess and Dexter Janke are all superb kick returners. Three kids who could work their way onto the roster using their return skills are Keegan Arnyek, Deion Bain, and Jarvis James, who all have tremendous speed and elusiveness.
The kicking situation, which was as much of a carousel as the quarterback was last season, has been settled, somewhat. Punter Denton Kolodzinski returns for his third season, while Cole Samson, who handled both placekicking and punting duties at times last season, is back for his second year. We may see another player added to compete with these two, but that won’t likely happen until the fall. Keep an eye on Sean Stenger, a receiver who is also an excellent kicker. He may make life difficult for the two incumbent kickers.