REGINA — Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant took another step forward Friday but not enough to earn head coach Cory Chamblin’s approval.
Durant practised a second straight day after suffering a sprained right foot in Saskatchewan’s 39-28 road win last week over the Toronto Argonauts. It was another positive sign for Durant, who wore a walking boot earlier in the week and didn’t practise before Thursday.
But Chamblin continues to take his time deciding whether Durant or backup Drew Willy will start Sunday night’s home game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"He (Durant) did take two days in a row so that looks good," Chamblin told reporters. "He did have a little bit of pain after (Thursday’s) practice and he fought through it.
"If he’s healthy I guess he’ll probably get that but I can’t say 100 per cent he’s the quarterback right now at this point. Too many other things can happen between now and then."
Durant, 30, has been excellent for the unbeaten Riders (3-0). He has completed 54-of-75 passes (72 per cent) for 674 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions and has a league-best efficiency rating of 135.1.
With Durant, the Riders’ offence leads the CFL in scoring (38 points per game) and rushing (173 yards) and is second in total yards (398.7). Running back Kory Sheets is the league’s rushing leader with 442 yards and is averaging an impressive 6.4 yards per carry.
That’s not good news for a Hamilton defence allowing 147.3 yards per game rushing and 8.8 yards per carry this season. The unit is also giving up 29.7 points per game.
But Saskatchewan can do more than just run as Taj Smith has a team-high 11 catches for 200 yards and three TDs.
If Durant can’t play, sophomore Willy will make just his second CFL start. He was 22-of-34 passing for 225 yards and a TD with two interceptions in a 28-17 loss to Montreal last September.
On Thursday, Durant said his foot didn’t bother him when he ran straight ahead or dropped back to pass. That wasn’t the case when he rolled out of the pocket or tried to execute play-action pass plays but Durant added he’s played through worse pain.
"I’m a competitor and there’s not one game I want to sit out," he said. "It will take a lot to hold me back.
"I feel like I have a high tolerance for pain so I’ll be fine."
Chamblin is trusting Durant to be honest with him regarding his foot.
"He knows how much pain he has," Chamblin said. "Darian and I have a good relationship that he’d tell me if it was that bad."
Sunday’s game will also mark the return of Hamilton coach Kent Austin to Regina.
Austin spent his first seven CFL seasons as a quarterback with Saskatchewan, leading the club to a wild 43-40 Grey Cup win over Hamilton at Rogers Centre in ’89.
He became Saskatchewan’s head coach in 2007, guiding the Riders to a 12-6 record and 23-19 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg. Two months later, Austin left to become the offensive co-ordinator at his alma mater, Ole Miss, before being named Cornell’s head coach Jan. 26, 2010.
He returned north of the border Dec. 17, 2012 as Hamilton’s head coach, GM and director of football operations. Earlier this week, Austin said some of his most cherished football memories came while in Regina but the game was more about the two teams on the field than his return to Saskatchewan.
But there’s no shortage of other storylines Sunday.
Slotback Geroy Simon, 37, acquired from B.C. in the off-season, will make his Riders debut. The CFL’s all-time receiving yards leader missed the first three games with a leg injury needs 29 catches to break Ben Cahoon’s league record of 1,017.
Riders linebacker Renauld Williams faces the Ticats for the first time since they released him this off-season. Williams amassed 185 tackles over two seasons with Hamilton after spending his first three years with Saskatchewan.
Hamilton’s roster features quarterback Henry Burris, slotback Andy Fantuz and defensive end Shomari Williams, all former Riders who left Saskatchewan to sign with the Ticats as free agents.
Fantuz is injured but Chamblin is well aware of how dangerous the elusive Burris can be.
"Hank’s just always going to give you troubles," he said. "If you cover them all in the pass, he’ll run and if you do the run, he’ll pass.
"Hank’s a pretty good player."
Saskatchewan drafted Williams first overall in 2010 and the 28-year-old Toronto native played three years there before signing with Hamilton this off-season to be closer to home. The former Queen’s star is looking forward to playing before the Riders’ rabid fans.
"The crowd is pretty crazy, probably one of the craziest crowds they have in the CFL," he said. "I have a lot of friends there and it will be nice to go back but it’s another game, really, at the end of the day."
Williams said Hamilton’s top defensive priority will be containing Sheets.
"We want to be a great run-stopping defence so we can set things up for the pass," he said. "We definitely have to stop Kory Sheets first."