Larry Dean made the most of his return to CFL football last week.
Dean, who suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in training camp last year, had eight tackles and a sack in the Saskatchewan Roughriders' home-opener win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
He was one of four Riders players to suffer an Achilles injury on the same day at the start of training camp last year, following a lost Canadian Football League season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only he and defensive back Nelson Lokombo are still with the team.
"We had a running joke last year," said Dean, who hadn't played a regular-season game since 2020 until last Saturday.
"It was like the ghost squad, you know — it was four of us with Achilles in rehab and things of that nature. So it's just nice to be back out here."
Dean said the Achilles feels great and he learned a lot while rehabilitating.
"I think everyone who went in came out on the other end … a better version of themselves. So I think that it was a blessing in disguise. You know, you just have to look for that silver lining," he said.
"My main objective is just to be where my feet are. So, you know, whatever the obstacle is, I just want to be present wherever I'm at."
The starting weak-side linebacker is now looking forward to this Saturday's road game against the Edmonton Elks.
"It's another opportunity to go out and line up," Dean said."You know, being on the shelf for two years, you relish any chance or opportunity that you get. You definitely don't take it for granted."
The Elks were demolished 59-15 by the B.C. Lions in their opening game.
Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo said despite the lopsided loss, the team shouldn't take the Elks lightly.
"I know coming off a loss, you want to wash that bad taste out of your mouth, so you're willing to do whatever you can to win the football game," Fajardo said, adding the Elks will want to impress the hometown crowd.
"We're expecting a dogfight. I'm expecting a four-quarter battle — another one of those CFL games that comes down to the last three minutes."
Most teams make a big leap between Week 1 and Week 2 of the season, Dean said.
"So we have to just go out and put our best foot forward, but they're going to come out hungry and be ready to play in front of their fans."
Fajardo looking for quicker start
Head coach Craig Dickenson said it's important to match the energy of the Elks.
"We need to understand they're going to come out with more energy, with something to prove, a little chip on their shoulder, and hopefully we can match it and play one of our better games," Dickenson said.
The Riders offence didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter last week, and Fajardo would like a quicker start this weekend.
He said the offence needs to be much better on second down to sustain more drives.
"That's been the focus this week, is trying to stay on the field, give our defence a rest."
Fajardo's task will be a little tougher as star receiver Duke Williams, who suffered an ankle injury in practice, will not play on Saturday.
Mitchell Picton will take his spot in the starting lineup. Wide receiver Samuel Emilus will also see playing time, Dickenson said.
"Picton can play all those [receiving] spots," he said. "We got Samuel Emilus that we feel like can play there as well, and we've got ways to move guys around."
Saturday's match against the Elks kicks off at 7:35 p.m. CST.