The Saskatchewan Roughriders may have stumbled into the CFL playoffs, but head coach Corey Chamblin hopes preparation can make up for lack of momentum as he readies his young squad for the West Division semifinal.
The Roughriders (8-10) lost the last four games of the season and face a daunting task when they travel to Calgary (12-6) for Sunday's game against the Stampeders.
Chamblin said Thursday the onus will be on the coaching staff to provide a buffer against the pressure of a post-season experience that will be new to a significant number of his players.
"The thing about having a young team is that young teams go as we go as coaches," Chamblin said. "It is who protects the quarterback. That's what will decide it."
That's a sweeping generalization of course. Just ask any offensive lineman.
Offensive guard Brendon LaBatte says he's hoping the Riders can get tailback Kory Sheets and their running attack in high gear early and thus make pass protection at least a little bit easier against a Calgary defence that recorded 40 quarterback sacks this season.
"They're a good front seven," LaBatte said. "Their schemes are all over the place."
Only three 'Riders on West all-star team
If the Riders do require psychological motivation, it could come in the form of Thursday's announcement of the West Division all-star team and the disappointing news that it includes only three players from Saskatchewan, all on offence.
LaBatte and wide receivers Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf are the Roughriders' lone representatives.
'The biggest all-star is the Grey Cup. The biggest thing you want is that ring.' —Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin
"The biggest all-star is the Grey Cup. The biggest thing you want is that ring," said Chamblin.
"The personal stuff doesn't mean a whole lot," said LaBatte, who became a West Division all-star in his first season in Saskatchewan. "I think we've got a lot of good players who are obviously worthy."
Getzlaf caught 65 passes for 864 yards and two touchdowns this season en route to his first-ever selection as a CFL all-star.
While those numbers were the best for any Canadian receiver in the league this season, they are not as impressive as the 1,071 yards and 10 touchdowns Getzlaf put up in 2011.
Some of Getzlaf's most productive games have been against the Stampeders, an accomplishment he humbly attributes to favourable matchups.
"I enjoy playing Calgary, for sure," he said with a smile. "Any time you go to the playoffs, it's an entirely new season. Everyone out there needs to know that you need to step up."
Dressler had a spectacular season, catching 94 passes for 1,206 yards and 13 touchdowns, career highs in all three categories for the five-year veteran. He also carried the ball 11 times for 56 yards, and ran back 20 punts for 229, including a 76-yard return for a touchdown.
Dressler downplayed his individual accomplishments and shifted the focus back to the team objective of advancing to the West Division final against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver.
He said all-star recognition "is not what we started the year out for."