Darian Durant has some good news for Saskatchewan Roughriders fans. The veteran quarterback said Tuesday he’s 95 per cent recovered from the season-ending Achilles tendon injury he suffered in Saskatchewan’s first game last year.
Durant added he had no leg problems during Saskatchewan’s mini-camp in Florida last week.
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“I’m almost there,” said Durant, in town to do some promotional shoots for the upcoming CFL season. “I had a great off-season in Atlanta working with some great trainers and physical therapists.”
“It’s about building volume in the leg, being able to withstand high intensity for three, three-and-a-half hours of a football game.”
The Achilles injury was Durant’s second major setback in as many years. He missed Saskatchewan’s final eight regular-season games in 2014 with an elbow injury after starting 83-of-90 games the previous five seasons.
He had a career-best 31 TDs in 16 regular-season starts in 2013, finishing that season leading Saskatchewan to Grey Cup title at Mosaic Stadium.
But after suffering consecutive season-ending injuries, Durant, 33, admitted he had some doubts regarding his football future.
“You go from being a guy who’s known to be very durable and then you have two crazy injuries happen and you think about life after football,” he said. “You don’t like to think that when you feel you’re in the prime of your career but being on the shelf and sitting down and not being able to move for months is tough on you personally.”
“But I’ve had a great support system with my family and everyone in the organization has been good to me. They keep my spirits up whenever I maybe feel down and it’s given me that drive and motivation to be even better.”
Durant said he’ll have no lingering doubts about his health when he does step on to the field for real.
“When I look at my elbow injury, I don’t care if you’re 10 or 50, if a guy hits you with your arm going forward with that much momentum, something’s liable to give,” he said. “As far as the Achilles, I look at it as a freak injury.”
“I’m just trying to make sure I train a little bit better because coming into last year it was all about my elbow … and other parts of my body weren’t able to benefit from that. Now it’s about training your core, training your legs and making sure everything is strong. I’ve had a great off-season so I’m not really worried about it.”
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Durant will be Saskatchewan’s starter under new coach/GM Chris Jones. The Riders fired GM Brendan Taman and head coach Corey Chamblin during last season – Saskatchewan finished with a league-worst 3-15 record – and hired Jones, who led the Edmonton Eskimos to the 2015 Grey Cup as their head coach.
But the changes didn’t stop there.
Such proven veterans as safety Tyron Brackenridge, defensive lineman John Chick and receivers Weston Dresser and Chris Getzlaf, were either released or left as free agents. Receivers John Chiles and Shamawd Chambers (Grey Cup game’s top Canadian), defensive lineman Justin Capiccotti and linebacker Greg Jones were among those signed in free agency.
Durant also didn’t emerge unscathed, having to take a pay cut this year. He’ll reportedly earn $450,000 in the final year of his CFL contract instead of the roughly $500,000 he was scheduled to make.
“It was (difficult) but I totally understand why,” Durant said. “In order to get some of these guys we brought in we needed to free up some space.
“I understand the business and I’m all about getting better.”
The five-foot-11, 214-pound Durant said while he’s looking forward to playing for Jones – who has won four Grey Cups as a defensive coach/head coach – he feels badly last year’s struggles cost both Taman and Chamblin their jobs.
“I hated to see what happened to Brendan and coach Chamblin,” he said. “I wish I could’ve been there to help as much as I could but unfortunately I couldn’t.”
“At the same time I know how the business goes and I’m looking forward to working with coach Jones. I’m excited about the guys we’ve brought in. I think we have a real legitimate shot at making a run at this thing.”
However, Durant said he’ll have to get used to not seeing Dressler or Getzlaf in the Riders’ huddle this year. Dressler will play for Winnipeg in 2015 while Getzlaf is now with Edmonton.
“We all started together (in Saskatchewan) so it’s going to be different,” he said.
Durant also made it clear he’s not ready to call it a career just yet.
“I feel like besides the Achilles I’ve not had a major lower-body injury,” he said. “If I can stay healthy and productive – it’s all about production – then I see myself playing until at least 40.”