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January 21, 2018

Durant Ready to Help Any Way He Can

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant (4) looks for a receiver during first half CFL action against the Montreal Alouettes, in Regina on Saturday, October 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

They are fair questions that come with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers decision to bring aboard Darian Durant as a veteran backup to No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols.

He’s 35 now – 36 in August – and coming off two challenging seasons in Saskatchewan and Montreal in which everything about his game, from his arm strength to his durability and adaptability, have been under the microscope. Ditto the obvious concerns about his willingness to take on a new role after years as a starter as the experienced voice in the quarterback room and on the sidelines, knowing full well that the best case scenario for the Bombers would see him get only limited reps in garbage time behind a healthy Nichols.

Durant touched on all those subjects and hit all the right notes in a media conference call Sunday morning, not long after his signing with the Bombers Saturday night reverberated across the Canadian Football League. The 12-year CFL vet – 11 seasons with the Riders – said three teams were actively pursuing him and his decision to sign with Winnipeg came, in part, from a desire to reunite with long-time teammate Weston Dressler and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice.

Big in the move, as well, was his simple wish to have some joy of the game return after the last two nightmarish seasons. Traded to Montreal last January after terms of a new contract couldn’t be worked out in Regina, Durant was then dumped last week by the Als after they opted not to pay him a six-figure offseason bonus.

“It’s no secret Montreal came to me and wanted to renegotiate my deal,” began Durant. “Once the deadline came and they released me, the first thing I wanted to do was look at other opportunities, look and see if there was a better fit for me around the league and just get into a great environment with great coaches and players where everybody loved football. Once I got released I looked at the other opportunities that were out there and Winnipeg was the best spot that I felt was best for me at the time.”

“The past two years I’ve been in rough situations. Looking at the locker room in Winnipeg, I just wanted to get into a work environment where I was happy every day and I saw this as that opportunity because the past couple of years have been very troubling. It’s been a tough time for me and I just wanted to take a step back and just enjoy work and I’m hoping that this is that situation.”

So, what kind of QB are the Bombers adding to their depth chart, one which features Nichols at the top with Dom Davis likely to be pushed for the No. 3 job by prospects like Josh Straughan and Philip Nelson? Even with all the troubles in Saskatchewan two seasons ago and Montreal last year, Durant still threw for over 3,000 yards in both seasons – 7,072 combined – completing 66.2 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. He has two Grey Cups to his name, one as a starter, and was twice named a West Division All-Star.

 

Adding a veteran piece like Durant behind Nichols comes with the understanding that his best years are likely behind him, but with the goal of tapping into both his experience and proven track record as a No. 1 QB. And with Kevin Glenn having signed with Edmonton last week, the options in CFL free agency were Durant, Drew Willy, Travis Lulay (who is coming off knee surgery and won’t be ready to start the season), Cody Fajardo, Everett Golson, Jacory Harris and Dan LeFevour, who was here last season, won his lone start, and was primarily used as a short-yardage specialist.

Durant will have to make a significant adjustment as well, moving from the top of the depth chart to a new role as the No. 2.

“I don’t think it will be difficult at all,” he said. “When I first started my career, I was a practice squad guy and then I was a third-stringer and then I was a back-up. So I had to work my way up. I think everybody on the team has a role and I’m looking at this as ‘where can my talents be best served’ and I felt like coming in and helping Matt and being a security blanket for him, helping out in short-yardage and just being around Coach LaPo and a good environment just made it an easy decision for me.”

Durant spoke a couple of times of the opportunity to work again with LaPolice and Dressler, but also about joining a club that has gone 23-13 over the last two years – second only to Calgary – but needs to make a deep November run.

“That all came into play when I was making this decision,” he said.

“I wanted to be a part of a roster that is right on the verge of winning a title. You look at this Winnipeg team, they are a few pieces away; the coaching’s in place and it’s just a great situation for me. Of course, when you look at teams and situations to go to you look at the roster, you look at the guys, the playmakers on the team and you see where you can fit in. That’s what made this a good fit for me.”

Durant, who became a father on January 9th with the birth of his daughter Amayah, spoke to Dressler recently about coming to Winnipeg and also touched base with Riders receiver Rob Bagg about switching allegiances for the annual Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl showdown between the two prairie rivals.

“Once we (he and Dressler) both departed Saskatchewan we both felt like we kinda had our run and would probably never be teammates again,” said Durant. “Even leading up to this process I talked to him a lot and texted him last night and told him ‘I’m excited just to talk football with you again’ because those are some of the things you miss, not only his playmaking ability, but just being in the meeting rooms talking football, routes and defence – that’s a lot of the things I missed, so I’m glad to be able to get that back.

“I had a talk with Robb Bagg last night, who is also a good friend of mine. I told him I’ll see him on the other side. You always wonder what it would be like on the other side… being the home team in the Banjo Bowl, being the road team in the Labour Day Classic. Not a lot of guys get to experience it from both sides. I’m excited about that.”

Durant mentioned that he has spoken to Nichols about how he sees his role in Winnipeg and what value he can bring to the Bombers.

“I spoke to Matt and just told him that I’m just coming in to support you 100 percent. You’re the guy. You helped build what is Winnipeg Blue Bomber football in its present day,” said Durant. “I’m just coming in trying to help do what I can and if my number’s called just be ready and be that veteran guy that can help him as much as possible.

“I don’t know if there’s much that I can teach him. He’s been playing at a high level the past couple of years. I just want to help him, be a different set of eyes for him, maybe tell him the different things I saw throughout my career and what I see defences try to do to stop him. But mainly it’s just to help. I’m not going in trying to be a teacher, I just want to help him out as much as I can and just be that guy for him whenever he comes to the sidelines to tell him what’s going on and how he can attack different teams.

“What I’ve learned in this game is to just take it year by year,” he added. “You never know what’s ahead of you. When I tore my Achilles in Game 1 three years ago everything just flashed before my eyes. I’m just taking it year by year and I’m looking at this as an excellent opportunity to come in with a great team and help out and be that insurance policy if need be. I wish no injury on no one. I hope Matt stays healthy all 18 games. But at the end of the day if my number’s called I have to be ready.”