Rating West's top rookies

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

REGINA -- There is more than just one showdown happening on the Mosaic Stadium turf late tomorrow afternoon.

While the visiting Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders are just two points apart in the West Division and will be involved in a crucial battle to determine playoff positioning, there is another intriguing battle within the game.

Edmonton's Tristan Jackson and Saskatchewan's Weston Dressler are the leading candidates to be rookie of the year in the West.

Each team is making a legitimate case for their player.

Here are the arguments from each dressing room.

Tristan Jackson

The case being built in the Eskimos' compound for why return specialist Jackson is the top freshman in the West is rather simple.

It comes down to one question: Who do opposing coaches fear more?

Jackson's early season success - scoring two return touchdowns in the opening four weeks - made teams kick away from the rookie.

With the talent and speed to turn the momentum of a game with one return, the 22-year-old import leads the CFL in return majors (three) this year and has added another on an interception return.

"One guy can change games, I know that," said Eskimos special teams coach Noel Thorpe.

Added Edmonton receiver Kamau Peterson: "(Jackson's) impact on games has been tremendous. It is harder for him to get opportunities to show up every night, but Tristan is a game-changer."

The Central Arkansas product has 790 punt return yards (first in CFL), 24.6-yard kickoff return average (third in CFL among regular returners) and has 1,745 combined yards (sixth in CFL).

Working against Jackson in voting will be the fact he seemed to suffer a bit of a confidence problem earlier this fall when he admitted to not reading the blocks as well as before.

But a punt return touchdown against Winnipeg on Oct. 4 seemed to cure that issue.

The one statistic that might really work in his favour when the regular season ends in two weeks is his touchdown total compared to Dressler's.

While Dressler plays a much more offensive position as a main receiver with the Riders, he's only scored five majors.

Jackson has produced four TDs and another return major might give him the edge he needs with voters.

"Dressler is a viable candidate," said Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia, "but Tristan is probably the most electric punt/kick returner out there and he can play defensive back. He can definitely change the game."

Weston Dressler

If receiver Dressler doesn't emerge as the West Division nominee for rookie of the year in the CFL, there might be an outcry of anger in the Saskatchewan Roughriders' dressing room.

"I don't think it is even close," said Rider defensive back Omarr Morgan on the upcoming voting next week.

"Look what (Dressler) has done. You lose Matt Dominguez, Andy Fantuz, DJ Flick, Wes Cates and you can't stop him."

Added Dominguez, who just returned to the roster last week from the nine-game injured list: "He has become the go-to guy. The kid is going to have 1,000 (receiving) yards next game, probably."

Dressler is sitting at 950 yards on 48 catches entering tomorrow's game against Edmonton at Regina's Mosaic Stadium (5 p.m., TSN, CHED).

Critics will suggest he has been able to pile up that total because of the absence for long stretches this year of the Riders' top three receivers: Dominguez, Flick and Fantuz.

But on the other side of the coin, he has had success with opposing defences knowing he was the main target.

"When all of a sudden their focus is on you, now you have to find other ways to get open," continued Dominguez.

"Some young guys, it really frustrates them. Wes has the temperament to be able to deal with it."

The knock on Dressler is that sometimes he might not adjust his routes properly.

A Saskatchewan interception in the end zone last weekend against Hamilton came on a pass directed to him. Dressler was right there with Hamilton defender Chris Thompson, but lost the battle.

But veteran Riders defender Scott Schultz believes the Football Reporters of Canada aren't facing a very difficult choice in next week's vote.

"(It's) an easy decision. (Dressler) has definitely done above and beyond the call of duty for what a rookie should be asked to do," said Schultz. "He should run away with it."

FINISH LINES

The CFL rules for rookie of the year ensure a player with previous NFL regular-season or playoff experience isn't eligible. That is why Edmonton's Kelly Campbell is not on the ballot ... Hamilton receiver Prechae Rodriguez (909 receiving yards and six touchdowns) is expected to be the East Division nominee for the overall rookie of year award in the CFL.


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