The B.C. Football Conference hits the midway point of its season this weekend, but the Vancouver Island Raiders still have battles going on at several key positions, especially on offence.
While this Saturday's game in Kamloops against the Broncos may not decide those positions once and for all, it will likely play a major role in who gets the bulk of playing time for the rest of the season.
The Raiders (2-2) are coming off a 56-3 blowout win over the Valley Huskers (2-1-1) at Caledonia Park this past Saturday and are heavily favoured for another blow out win over the Broncos (0-3-1).
This will be a perfect opportunity for players to show exactly what they are capable of one last time, heading into the bye week.
"I don't want to label this guy as a No. 1 and this guy as a No. 2 until the due diligence has (been completed) and we've gone through the process," said head coach Matt "Snoop" Blokker.
"When it comes down to time where one guy is the guy, it might come down to just that week he is playing better. We're not in a panic that way and the one thing we love is the competition and I think that's what's driving our team week in and week out is the competition at practice."
The most important position battle is at quarterback where rookies Jamie Ybarra and Jaeden Marwick are going blow-for-blow.
Marwick has performed consistently well in his time in short stints this season, while Ybarra is coming off a huge first half against the Huskers as he went 8-for-14 for 218 yards and five touchdowns to earn BCFC offensive player of the week honours. Both have shown glimpses of greatness, but both have had their stumbles a long the way. It has been a learning process for both of them, especially in the Raiders 36-28 loss to the Langley Rams two weeks ago.
"It was crazy, going up against those guys, they're so quick. You have to get the ball out and you've just got to be on your toes," said Marwick, who was injured at the end of the second half in that game.
"You have to understand that these are the best players in the league and they're going to be coming at you fast and you've got to be prepared to get it out quick and let the receivers do their thing."
Blokker still doesn't have a handle on whoever wins out, but it appears that both will get in games in different packages for the rest of the year, similar
to NFL teams that will run a Wildcat package for a series with certain quarterbacks. It gives the Raiders the ability to change things up and disrupt a defence.
"They both have different intangibles that they bring to the game," said Blokker. "As coaches it's our job to continue to make our team better and to win, and for us to do that, both of these guys need to get an opportunity to be on the field. There is no clear-cut guy."
One of the more complicated battles is at wide receiver. This battle has emerged due to early season injuries to a number of pass catchers like Dustin Rodriguez and Whitman Tomusiak, allowing other receivers the chance to get into the mix. Guys like Dylan Schrot, Paul Childs, Alex Thompson, Marshall Cook, Aurthor Fabbro, Alex Kutra and Owen Redlick are all pushing for reps. Some of them are getting extra looks just based on their play on special teams.
For the rookie quarterbacks, it does add an extra challenge as it makes it more difficult to get in a rhythm with one set of receivers, but they are getting used to it.
"It's definitely different because you can't get used to one guy, but we've had a lot of time this season to get used to each other since main camp," said Marwick. "We've discovered how people run routes and what receivers have different tendencies. I've learned to work with each receiver and I feel that I'm pretty comfortable with all of our guys." What makes the timing of this right now so important is the bye week. If they are to make any big decisions regarding starters, they will have an extra week to implement systems or plays and prepare for a difficult second half of the season that opens with back-to-back games against the Okanagan Sun and the Langley Rams.
"Those are going to be two very physical matches and obviously we have to play better against both teams if we're going to compete in this league," said Blokker. "We want to be firing on all cylinders and play our best football. We feel we ripped the Sun off of a good football game the way we played up there, so we've got to be prepared to play a lot better."
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