McKnight tapped to replace Lawler CFL rookie surprise pick over veteran receiver Roosevelt
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/10/2021 (488 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Naaman Roosevelt has seen enough over his lengthy professional football career to not rush to judgment when something doesn’t go his way.
With 11 years split between the NFL and CFL, including 4,134 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in the three-down game, he’s got the kind of resume that screams trust to any head coach. But with Kenny Lawler out for Friday’s game against the visiting Edmonton Elks, as he serves a one-game suspension following a charge for impaired driving earlier this week, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have opted to go with rookie Kelvin McKnight.
“That’s what this game is about, patience,” Roosevelt said after Bombers practice Wednesday. “I’ve been around for a while; I understand the game and know what goes on so I’m just out there working and trying to get better every day. That’s it, trying to get my stuff better, my team better.”
It’s not often a player not in the lineup, or even on the official roster — Roosevelt is on the practice roster — dominates conversation. But Roosevelt isn’t any other player, and when the Bombers signed him on Aug. 30, the belief was it was only a matter of time before his number was called.
Up to this point, there was little reason to consider Roosevelt, as the Bombers are atop the West Division, at 7-1, and are 3-0 since the 33-year-old was acquired more than five weeks ago. When Lawler was ruled out, though, many were quick to suggest Roosevelt as the obvious replacement.
Then came practice on Wednesday and it was McKnight working with the first-team offence. And he looked good, hauling in two touchdowns, one of which included a nifty one-handed grab.
“The first thing is Kelvin’s been progressing very rapidly over the course of the season and especially in the last couple of weeks. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of talent and he’s picked up our systems very quickly,” Bombers offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce said.
“Naaman is still progressing. Obviously, he’s a veteran in this league that has won a lot of football games, made a lot of big plays for a number of years. We like a lot of things about his football game, but the narrative really is credit to Kelvin and what he’s done and kept himself ready to go.”
Though a CFL rookie, McKnight has played three games already this season. He was injected into the lineup with Darvin Adams injured and stayed there for two more games as Nic Demski got healthy. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he has been consistent, reeling in at least three receptions in every game for a combined 10 catches for 71 yards.
McKnight was also a standout in training camp, where he seemed to have an instant connection with quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros has been somewhat of a mentor for the young McKnight, who turned 24 in April, and is a fan of what he can do. He’s also familiar with Roosevelt, with the two teamates for a couple seasons in Saskatchewan.
“I’m pretty confident. Not like I wasn’t confident before, but you get a little bit more comfortable as you just get more reps and games under your belt,” McKnight said.
“With the reps that I have it’s going to be a lot less thinking. I’m not saying I was perfect out there in those three games, but I’m comfortable.”
McKnight said Roosevelt has also provided help, not just to him but the entire group of receivers. The Bombers have a tight-knit group of guys catching the balls, and that entire foundation is built on supporting one another. They have a group chat together, which has welcomed Roosevelt with open arms, and while each want an opportunity to play, it’s an easier pill to swallow when they know the person getting the call is part of that brotherhood.
Roosevelt, who is soft spoken, has embraced whatever role he’s been given. He admitted he’s vented to his partner back home about not getting his shot on the field this season, but that’s only natural behaviour for someone with a competitive spirit.
When he comes to work, though, it’s all about improving individually and as a group.
“I’m a team player and with this locker room, it’s a great group of guys that have a lot of veterans that have kind of been around this league for a minute,” Roosevelt said. “So, I just want to be that guy that helps and when I see things and I can help in any way I will.”
If there’s anything Roosevelt needs to work on it’s getting more comfortable with the playbook. The Bombers have a sophisticated offence compared to most teams across the league, one that requires receivers learn and execute every position on the field.
Roosevelt said it can be a lot to digest, even if he’s been in Winnipeg for some time. He continues to work on his footwork, perfect his routes and if the Bombers come calling, he’s sure to be ready.
“I’m just going to keep working, control what I can control. I can’t worry about (not playing), I just got to keep working and keep doing what I do and keep building and keep learning this offence,” he said. “I’m going to keep going until I can’t no more.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.