CFL Pass

Shivers fits in as Riders' defensive co-ordinator

Jason Shivers is a man of two football philosophies.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ first-year defensive co-ordinator has his own concepts and schemes — into which he has incorporated the philosophies of Chris Jones, the CFL team’s former vice-president of football operations, head coach, general manager and defensive co-ordinator.

“He was a huge mentor,” Shivers said before Thursday’s pre-season game against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “At first, I just wanted to be a defensive backs coach. After that first year, I really started to understand what it’s like to be a defensive co-ordinator.”

Shivers (pronounced Shy-vers) broke into the coaching ranks with the Toronto Argonauts as a defensive assistant in 2013. Jones, who was then Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator, assistant head coach and assistant GM, challenged Shivers by also having him work with the linebackers and defensive linemen.

Jones, who left the Riders on Jan. 15 to become a senior defensive assistant with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, felt that Shivers was already familiar with defensive backs and needed to become acquainted with other positions.

“He really prepped me as far as looking at personnel and to also looking at schemes,” Shivers added. “He did a great job in preparing me to be a defensive co-ordinator.”

Shivers remained with Jones as the defensive backs coach with the Edmonton Eskimos (2014-15) and through the past three seasons with the Roughriders.

Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson was the Eskimos’ and Riders’ special-teams co-ordinator over the same span. That familiarity with Shivers helped when Dickenson was looking for a defensive co-ordinator.

“I’ve always liked Jason as a coach,” Dickenson said. “He’s very intelligent, the players really respect him, and they play hard for him. We opened (the job search) up and the best candidate was right under our nose.

“After I interviewed him, I knew that we had the best guy for the job.”

Shivers takes over a defence that was among the league’s best in 2018, tying a CFL single-season record with 11 total returns for touchdowns (including eight interception-return majors).

“As players, we want to prove that Shivers is the man running things and he’s going to do things his way,” safety Mike Edem said. “We’re all going to be just as good as, if not better than, we were last year.”

Defensive back Ed Gainey has been with the Riders since 2016, the first year that Shivers was the team’s defensive backs coach.

“He’s his own person,” Gainey said. “It’s just the same defence and we’re going to stick to what we know and our bread and butter. We’re not going to change too much and we’re going to get after them.”

There have been changes in the personnel from 2018 with the departures of defensive end Willie Jefferson and linebacker Samuel Eguavoen.

There have been additions such as free-agent defensive tackle Micah Johnson, whose 14 sacks — registered with the Calgary Stampeders — placed him second in the league last season.

The Riders also signed middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who has yet to practise due to a calf injury, but is expected to make an impact when he does play.

“The more players you have, the better coach you’re going to be,” Shivers said. “It’s a pretty simple formula.”

That formula also extends to the players. Just like Jones, Shivers prefers big, aggressive, versatile athletes.

“I like big guys because that makes the angles hard on the quarterbacks,” Shivers said. “When you’re dropping into zones and you have guys with long, big wingspans, it makes it harder for them to throw into windows.”

Even with Jones out of the picture, there is talk of just how strong Saskatchewan’s defence will be in 2019.

“The talk is coming from inside the locker room, because we’re telling each other that we’re going to be the best defence in the league,” Gainey said.

“Anyone outside of that spectrum, we’re not worried about. It’s about us coming together, building this bond, taking it week in and week out and getting our job done.

“We proved last year that we can score touchdowns, cause turnovers, and we’re going to pick right up where we left off.”