Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach and general manager Chris Jones was in Montreal for the East Regional combine on Wednesday. He was one of only three general managers present at the event (Als GM Kavis Reed and Bombers GM Kyle Walters were also there).

Jones and I had a good chat about all things combine and Roughriders before he had to take off. We touched on the Riders’ quarterback situation, the free agents they were able to land, Duron Carter (of course), and much more.

Here’s our full chat:

Joey Alfieri: What did you think of the talent on display at the East Combine? 

Chris JonesYou know what, the talent’s gotten better and better and better. I was telling somebody-just really reminiscing- my first combine was here in 2002, and compared to where we were at that time as a league and the players, you have to give the coaches and players credit. They come, they’re prepared, they’ve been training and it’s fun to watch today.

JA: It has come a long way. What do you think is the biggest reason for that? 

CJ: I think that, at the time, I think hockey was a big emphasis- not that hockey interest has dwindled, but the football players, I think, have started making sure that they’re training. And maybe there’s more opportunities, more facilities where they can go and train and do what they need to do to become good football players.

JA: Have you had conversations about moving up or moving down in the draft already? Does that happen today or closer to the draft?

CJ: Yea, probably a little bit closer to draft. We’ve got some things that we can possible do to try to manoever ourselves around one way or the other, either to move up or move back. The good thing about these guys here is that you find those middle to late round guys.

JA: Did anything surprise you in free agency this year? 

CJ: Yea, free agency was pretty good. I thought we helped ourselves a lot. I have to give a lot of the credit to our personnel staff with Jeremy O’Day, John Murphy, Mike Davis, those guys did a great job of scouting and evaluating these guys and seeing what we could basically get them to sign up for. I think we’re a better football team after free agency than we were before.

JA: You brought back Willie Jefferson, you signed Zack Evans and traded for Charleston Hughes, is that somewhere you felt you needed to get better?

CJ: You know, we lost some good guys as well. If you look at it negatively first, we lost some good players. A.C. (Leonard) was a really good player for us. He’s going to do some really good things in the league for years to come if he doesn’t get an NFL shot. We wish him the very best. We feel like adding Charleston and his understanding of the game and his leadership, we felt like that was vital for us.

JA: Getting Zach Collaros was a big-time move for you guys. What has he shown in the last little while that made him interesting for you?

CJ: He hasn’t shown a whole lot in the last year. He hasn’t won a football game since I can’t tell you when. Zach Collaros has been a winner for a long time and that’s the one thing you can’t take away from him, is his ability to lead. I think that’s the thing he does best, is that he’s a leader. He’s from Steubenville, Ohio where all they care about his football. First thing they think about in the morning is football. He’s been leading that type of organization for his entire life, so this isn’t something that’s new for him. We have to make sure we keep a back in the backfield, we have to get him in sixty and seventy protection, we have to give him a bit or a running, we have to protect him and we just have to let Zach do what he does.

And the thing is, you haven’t mentioned Brandon Bridge. Brandon is one of the most dynamic players in the league and when he figures it all out, he’s going to be tough to do business with.

JA: When you brought back Bridge, did you already known that you wanted to bring in someone else?

CJ: Again, (Kevin Glenn) did a great job for us last year, but he’s a little bit of an older guy. We wish him nothing but the best over in Edmonton, as well. For us, we knew that we needed another guy and Zach became available. I have a little bit of history with Zach there. A couple of my friends are from his hometown. Actually, one of our scouts, Dave Walkosky, who I’ve worked with twice, is from his hometown. We have a good, thorough understanding of who he is and we feel very fortunate.

JA: Coach, you’re very hands-on when it comes to coaching and recruiting, so how do you manage the situation with Duron Carter?

CJ: We take it day-by-day. Duron is Duron. I mean, he’s had situations before. And again, like I told him, it’ll be all in the legal peoples’ hands at that point because you got yourself in a situation where they have control of what’s going on. So basically we’re waiting to see exactly how they rule and we’ll respect exactly how they rule.

JA: On the field, how did you think the whole DB experiment went with Duron this year and how did you come up with that? 

CJ: Duron actually came to me on more than one occasion, as Duron does. He kept telling me he could play defensive back and I said, “well have you ever played,” and he said, “no, i’ve never played a game at defensive back.” So we let him practice over there for two or three weeks and we looked. He’s a natural. He’s a guy that can man-cover, he’s got innate zone awareness to him. Certainly, he has all the ability and he’s tough to throw over the top of because of his height. He trust his speed, which is important as a DB to trust your ability and trust your speed. He’s a guy that can high-point the ball and he’s not scared. He’s not scared to tackle, he’s not scared to mix it up. So at that time I had a choice, either to play Sam Williams, who was a rookie or I to play Duron when Kacy (Rodgers) got hurt.

(Feature Image Credit: CBC News)