Injuries threatening Riders defense heading into Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg

Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Ed Gainey reacts to congratulations after recovering a fumble during second half CFL action against the B.C. Lions in Regina on Sunday, August 13, 2017. Gainey also had four interceptions on the night. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

The Saskatchewan Roughriders could be without two major players on defence this weekend.

Defensive backs Ed Gainey and Loucheiz Purifoy were limited at practice on Thursday, two days ahead of their game against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Saturday.

“They got some injuries that are nagging and we’re hoping that another day helps them but right now they’re still 50/50,” Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said.

The Bombers won the first meeting of the season against the Riders on Sunday, beating them 23-8. Both Gainey and Purifoy played key roles in keeping the score within reach.

Gainey, who is listed with a foot injury, had three tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Purifoy had six tackles, a team-high, and is listed with a neck injury.

Dickenson said the two were at closed practice on Thursday but left early.

“We're still not sure,” Dickenson said when asked whether the pair will start on Saturday. “They didn’t finish the whole (practice), but they did do a few things.”

Dickenson suggested that if a player needs to step into one of those defensive back spots, Christian Campbell could be called upon. The 26-year-old has yet to dress a game for the Riders and has been exclusively on the practice roster.

“Christian Campbell has done a good job all year of paying attention to what’s going on and improving his game,” Dickenson said. “I’m confident in them. The main thing is I want to make sure that we line up correctly. The pressure’s going to be on the guys that have played games before to pick up the pace and help these young guys out. It will be a learning curve for some of these guys if it’s their first game.”

One player expected to get some action is Elie Bouka. The Calgary Dinos product has two special teams tackles this season and was listed as safety behind Mike Edem on the depth chart.

“We’re sticking together as a team. The camaraderie as a team is at a really high level. Even after we lost we all stuck together,” Bouka said.

Bouka was late reporting to Riders camp. In the pandemic, he built a strength and conditioning company in Calgary. The 29-year-old worked with athletes from various backgrounds, including football, basketball and hockey.

“When spring happened, we didn’t know if we’d have a season or not. I took some commitments for the summer. When they confirmed the season, I spoke to my family, the coaching staff and the front office and made a decision that I had to fulfill my commitments to my young athletes.”

Bouka knows the Riders' defence well. He’s been working with defensive cordinator Jason Shivers since 2017. However, he’s still getting back into football shape.

“I’ve been able to watch film this whole off-season and train. You can watch as much film as you want but when you don’t play football for two years you get a little rusty,” Bouka said.

Regardless of who starts against the Winnipeg offense on Saturday, Bouka said he believes anybody will be able to rise to the occasion.

“I actually believe that this year we have the deepest secondary in the league and we are going to show that this week. We got a few guys down and some guys got to step up and I think that we feel confident with the guys we’ve got right now as well,” Bouka said.

The Riders are 3-1 this season, their only loss coming to Winnipeg last Sunday.

“We’re grateful to have another opporutnity to play these guys again,” Bouka said. “We pretty much (want to) do the same thing they did to us to them at their house.”

Saturday is the second and final meeting between the West Division rivals in the regular season.