Riders sign former Western Michigan quarterback

04/02/02 Bismarck Tribune
With their passing game unable to get off the ground, the Bismarck Roughriders decided to take a flier on a new quarterback.

Even the Roughriders coaching staff doesn't know a whole lot about Jason Baliko, who Bismarck picked up on Monday. But Baliko does have the stamp of approval of Tim Lester, who played QB for Bismarck coach Collins Sanders with the Memphis Xplorers in af2.

"We talked to people to find how (Baliko's) accuracy is, his arm strength, does he have a brain between his ears?" Sanders said.

"... He comes highly recommended and he looks pretty athletic," Sanders added. "We'll give it a shot and see what happens."

Baliko was a backup to Lester, who passed for more than 11,000 yards in his college career, at Western Michigan University. Baliko was listed as 6-2, 210 pounds on the roster for the Broncos, whom he last played for in 1999. That's about all the information available online about Baliko, but Sanders is keeping an open mind about his prospects.

Kirk Anderson remains the Roughriders starting quarterback, but Baliko will get the chance to compete for the job. Sanders compared it to when he brought in Danny Ragsdale sight unseen to compete for the quarterback position on the Bismarck Blaze.

"It's a similar situation to two years ago," Sanders said. "The job was Schwab's to lose, but Rags came in and he was the guy. Right now it's Kirk's job to lose."

In the first two games Bismarck's passing offense has been feeble, amassing a total of just 75 yards -- 58 in an opening loss to Sioux Falls and just 17 in Saturday's win over River City. That's an average of 37.5 yards per game. For comparison's sake, none of the 21 teams in the IFL averaged fewer than 85 yards per game through the air in 2000. The Blaze -- a heavily run-oriented team -- threw for 117.9 per game.

"We're very concerned," Sanders said. "We can obviously run the ball ... but we can't afford to be that one-dimensional."

Anderson has completed just 6 of 21 passes for 55 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns, but Sanders was emphatic that his quarterback was not solely to blame for the passing woes.

In particular, Sanders got steamed at his receivers several times during Saturday's game when they ran the wrong routes or made incorrect reads and adjustments.

"If the receivers had done what we asked them to do, it might have been a different story," Sanders said.

Anderson was interception-free against River City after the Roughriders had four passes picked in their opener.

"He didn't force anything," Sanders said. "When he threw it away, he flat out threw it away. That's a huge step."

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