June 20, 2018 9:29 pm
Updated: June 20, 2018 9:57 pm

Charleston Hughes making presence felt with Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defence

Veteran pass rusher Charleston Hughes had three sacks in Saskatchewan's season-opening 27-19 home win over the Toronto Argonauts last week.

File / Global News

The off-season acquisition of quarterback Zach Collaros was big for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but so was landing defensive lineman Charleston Hughes.

The veteran pass rusher had three sacks in Saskatchewan’s season-opening 27-19 home win over the Toronto Argonauts last week. That earned Hughes the most votes for the league’s top-player honours.

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READ MORE: Redblacks O-line counted on to protect Harris from aggressive Riders defence 

Hughes spent his first 10 CFL seasons in Calgary, registering 99 career regular-season sacks. He had a league-high 11 sacks in 2017, helping the Stampeders reach the Grey Cup for a second straight year.

But in the off-season Calgary dealt Hughes, 34, to Hamilton, who then sent him to Saskatchewan for quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Hughes made an immediate impact with his new team, registering the three sacks as well as pressuring Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray four times.

Dealing with Hughes and Co. will be a top priority for the Ottawa Redblacks, who host Saskatchewan in their season-opening game Thursday night at TD Place. Hughes comes in having registered 102 career sacks, just three behind Hall of Famer Rodney Harding.

The Argos seemed to have no answer for Saskatchewan’s front seven as Ray finished 22-of-37 passing (59.5 per cent) for 233 yards with an interception. Toronto’s offence mustered 289 total yards, including just 54 yards rushing as James Wilder Jr., the league’s top rookie last year, ran for 16 yards on five carries.

There will be plenty of pressure on Ottawa’s offensive line, which will feature rookie Mark Korte at left guard as Canadians Nolan MacMillan and Jason Lauzon-Seguin open the season on the injured list. Quarterback Trevor Harris will return under centre after suffering a leg injury in the club’s first exhibition game amid questions he’s not yet 100 per cent physically.

READ MORE: Questions at QB as Saskatchewan Roughriders enter 2018 CFL season

Ottawa selected Korte, a tackle at the University of Alberta, in the first round, No. 4 overall, in the 2018 CFL draft.

Fortunately for Ottawa, its defence won’t have to contend with Duron Carter. Saskatchewan’s top receiver last year will play Thursday, but solely in the Riders’ defensive backfield.

The Redblacks certainly have offensive firepower with running back William Powell (1,026 yards rushing, 5.9-yard average) and receivers Greg Ellingson (96 catches, 1,459 yards, 12 TDs), Canadian Brad Sinopoli (91 catches, 1,009 yards, three TDs) and Diontae Spencer (71 catches, 922 yards, six TDs). But it all starts with Harris and keeping him clean.

Prediction: Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus Montreal Alouettes (Friday night)

At Montreal, rookie Chris Streveler makes his second career start for Winnipeg (0-1). He was 15-of-28 passing for 178 yards with three TDs and two interceptions while rushing four times for 30 yards in a rain-soaked 33-30 loss to Edmonton. It was a decent CFL debut but the 23-year-old could only watch as veteran Mike Reilly rallied the Eskimos to the victory. Montreal (0-1) allowed five sacks in last week’s 22-10 road loss to B.C., but did accumulate 359 yards offensively as Drew Willy was 25-of-35 passing for 281 yards with a TD and interception.

Prediction: Montreal.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Edmonton Eskimos (Friday night)

At Edmonton, Jeremiah Masoli leads Hamilton (0-1) in a second straight road contest. Masoli was 25-of-36 passing for 344 yards a with an interception but Calgary outscored the Ticats 19-3 in the final frame en route to a 28-14 season-opening win. The squad bolstered its young secondary by re-signing veteran cornerback Delvin Breaux after three seasons in the NFL. The unit faces another stiff test with Reilly, who threw for 408 yards and a TD while scoring twice himself in rallying the Eskimos past the Blue Bombers.

Prediction: Edmonton.

Calgary Stampeders versus Toronto Argonauts (Saturday night)

At Toronto, it’s a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup game won by the Argos (0-1). But the home team will have to do more offensively than it did last week against Saskatchewan. The Argos especially struggled on second down, averaging just 2.8 yards. Calgary (1-0) amassed 429 offensive yards against Hamilton despite Bo Levi Mitchell completing under 50 per cent of his passes. Then again, all Mitchell does is win. The ’14 Grey Cup MVP and ’16 CFL outstanding player has an 8-0 regular-season record against Toronto and is 57-10-2 overall.

Prediction: Calgary.

Last week: 4-0.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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