Canadian Brandon Bridge is ready to tackle the challenge of being a CFL starting quarterback.
On Friday, Saskatchewan dealt the rights to veteran Darian Durant to the Montreal Alouettes for two draft picks. Durant, scheduled to become a free agent next month, spent 11 seasons with the Roughriders, guiding them to their last Grey Cup title in 2013.
But Saskatchewan (5-13) finished last in the West Division last year. With Durant gone, head coach/GM Chris Jones says there’ll be an open competition in training camp for the starting job.
The six-foot-five, 235-pound Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., is one of five quarterbacks remaining on Saskatchewan’s roster although American Mitchell Gale is slated to become a free agent next month.
“Personally, I would’ve wanted (Durant) back as a teammate to learn from,” Bridge said via telephone. “But I’ve been blessed to have many quarterbacks pass information down to me before so I’m ready for the challenge at hand.
“I don’t ever ask for anything to be handed to me . . . a fair chance, that’s all I can ask for. And for them to say it’s going to be an open competition and the best man will win, that’s good enough for me.”
Bridge, 24, is entering his third CFL season and second with Saskatchewan. He has completed 37-of-53 passes (69.8 per cent) for 445 yards with two TDs and an interception but learned plenty from Durant.
“He never got down if a ball was badly thrown, or got too high if he had a perfect day,” Bridge said. “He was always level-headed.
“He was a guy who came every day to work and taught me to control what you can control.”
Bridge started Montreal’s final 2015 regular-season contest. He completed 21-of-30 passes for 220 yards and two TDs in a 30-24 overtime loss to Saskatchewan, becoming the first Canadian to start a CFL game since B.C.’s Giulio Caravatta in 1996.
While Canadian-born starters in the CFL are rare, Bridge doesn’t see himself as a Canuck trying to succeed in his native land.
“I’m just trying to play football,” he said. “Look at me as a quarterback who just happens to be Canadian.
“It’s like if I was a quarterback that just happened to be left-handed. It’s just different but I can get the job done regardless of what my passport says.”
Bridge also played in Saskatchewan’s 41-18 road loss to B.C. on Nov. 5. He finished 10-of-11 passing for 120 yards while adding a 16-yard TD run.
“Brandon is one of those anomalies,” Jones said. “Sometimes at practice he doesn’t always look polished . . . but he was 10-of-11 in a quarter and a half versus B.C. and I can assure you they had their starters in there, they did not want us to score at the end of the ballgame.
“He played better than what I anticipated. He looked more like a gamer and again, if I could pick between having a game player or practice player I’d take the game player.”
Bridge said his performance versus B.C. was indicative of his abilities but understand’s Jones’s concerns about his practice habits.
“Game days are my favourite thing and I know I have to be a better practice player,” he said. “It’s just that my whole mentality changes (on game day) because I see the fans, I see the cameras, I see people buying popcorn.
“It’s time to put on a show so I just turn it all on but I need to be able to do that Monday to Friday to gain the trust of the coaches.”
Bridge split his college career between Alcorn State and South Alabama and attended the 2015 NFL combine. After being bypassed in the draft he went to the Dallas Cowboys’ mini-camp but wasn’t signed.
Montreal selected Bridge in the fourth round, No. 31 overall, of the 2015 CFL draft. He signed a two-year deal with the club before being released Aug. 1, 2016.
Bridge signed with Saskatchewan shortly afterwards.
Bridge feels with two CFL seasons under his belt and entering his second campaign in Saskatchewan’s offence he’s in a good position to compete for the starter’s job.
“Knowing I understand the playbook, it’s not going to be brand new to me,” he said. “Going into camp I’m going to have a good head start on what the coaches want to do.
“I know what they were trying to stress (in 2016) because I was part of that so I think it will definitely help my training camp.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press