TORONTO — It’s off to the races in the 2018 Canadian Football League season, as all nine teams opened up training camp Sunday morning.
As is usually the case, there were plenty of roster moves made the morning of the start of training camp as coaches and GMs tied up any loose ends before officially launching the new campaign.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers rewarded Andrew Harris coming off the best season of his career, signing the hometown running back to a two-year contract extension through 2020. Harris will be joined by some new faces on offence this year, including Adarius Bowman and Canadians Nic Demski and Kienan LaFrance, but the third-year Bomber remains the focal point of an offence that hopes to take the next step this season under veteran coordinator Paul LaPolice.
Demski’s role in the Bomber offence this year will be of particular interest, and the versatile playmaker was living up to his billing on Sunday when he received multiple reps at running back. The Bombers may be looking to start two Canadians at receiver but will have plenty of possibilities on that side of the ball.
While all eyes will be fixed on Zach Collaros in Saskatoon over the coming weeks, one question after a busy off-season for the Riders is at running back. With ratio-breaker Jerome Messam looking to start, one question was answered first thing on Sunday when Trent Richardson was absent from camp and placed on the suspended list, while veteran back Cameron Marshall was released.
One intriguing name added to the Riders’ training camp roster is Zac Stacy, a former NFL running back who retired last year after playing for the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams. Marcus Thigpen is starting the year with a two-game suspension, and Jones is likely hoping to pair of an American back in tandem with the big man in Messam.
In one of many intriguing position battles this training camp, Terran Vaughn was handling the majority of reps at left tackle on the first day for the Riders, while Canadian receiver Jake Harty was seen limping off the field after suffering an apparent right leg injury. Duron Carter played mostly receiver, with defensive back Chris Lyles handling duties at the boundary corner.
Hamilton’s McMaster University was the epicentre of it all on Sunday, as Manziel put on his Ticats No. 2 jersey for the very first time. But as roughly 200 onlookers gathered to watch Manziel’s first practice, it was Jeremiah Masoli taking the reins on Day 1, getting the majority of snaps and completing most of his passing attempts in the competitive 7-on-7 session.
For Manziel, who signed autographs for anyone who asked after practice, it was better to slowly get a taste of what the CFL is all about — though his reps will increase in the coming days.
“It felt better being out here than it did when I was laying in bed last night, going over the playbook,” Manziel said. “When we went to the meetings (on Saturday), I felt super overwhelmed and I started to get a little too hard on myself because (the offence) is different.
“The routes are different…the footwork, the certain windows that you hit and how quick they happen. That was different. I was feeling a little overwhelmed.”
Mariel Cooper was handling most of the reps at SAM linebacker for the Ticats before having to leave due to an apparent injury. The Ticats announced new three-year deals for seven of their 2018 CFL Draft picks before starting on Sunday, but two notable absences from the list were the first-round picks, receiver Mark Chapman and offensive lineman Darius Ciraco.
There were plenty of eyes on the morning’s session in Edmonton, with some curiosity over how Brock Sunderland and Jason Maas would approach their ratio. It’s early, but Nate Behar was taking first-team reps one year after the rookie missed all of training camp, while Canadian sophomore Kwaku Boateng was starting at defensive end.
On the O-line, after the loss of Joel Figueroa, the Eskimos began camp with veteran Colin Kelly anchored at right tackle and newcomer Chauncey Briggs at left. Briggs is just 23 years old but could have a chance to start in Figueroa’s place.
John White was a notable absence from Eskimos camp after being released, but his name was already being brought up just south of Edmonton where the Calgary Stampeders took the field for the first time. The Stamps have a handful of American running backs competing for the starting job, which was left vacant after the departure of Canadian running back Messam. White could be a possible fit in Calgary, although Head Coach Dave Dickenson was non-committal either way.
With a second straight Grey Cup loss hanging over his head, Bo Levi Mitchell took questions in stride coming into his seventh CFL season, saying his team will learn from what happened last November vs. the Toronto Argonauts. Mitchell says not only is the shoulder feeling good, but he’s also come to camp in better shape.
“I lost a little fat. It was a good off-season, my wife and I changed our diets and ate right and she stayed on top of me all off-season,” he said. “I was out 20, 22 pounds when it was all said and done so hopefully I’m feeling a little bit lighter and it’ll make Huff and Dave happy and I’ll run it a couple of times.”
In other Stamps news, receiver Marquay McDaniel says he hasn’t officially retired, but the papers will be filed soon as he transitions into a coaching career with a Canadian university. According to a recent report, McDaniel could be headed back to Hamilton with the McMaster Marauders.
While most of the country honed in on Johnny Manziel, there was very little news out of the nation’s capital on Sunday. But Head Coach Rick Campbell said he was happy with his team’s start, while Jason Lauzon-Segion, SirVincent Rogers and Brad Sinopoli all looked good coming off injuries.
“It’s good to see guys that had those longer-term injuries, they’re back and playing, I’m happy for those guys,” said Campbell. “They worked hard in the off-season so it’s great to see those guys back in action.”
The REDBLACKS will have some competition at multiple receiver positions after the team moved on from Kenny Shaw, Juron Criner and Josh Stangby, leaving only Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer as the returning international starters. So far, though, the younger, less-proven receivers haven’t looked out of place.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are explosive that looked really good running the routes and they know their stuff, which is the most important thing,” said Sinopoli. “There are going to be some good battles for those two spots and so far the guys are doing great.”
In BC the Lions are expecting Jovan Olafioye to report to camp Monday, while the Alouettes are looking to fill the void at tackle after releasing the six-time CFL All-Star. On Saturday the Als made a series of roster moves going into camp, including the release of Canadian runningi back Shaq Murray-Lawrence.
Stay tuned to CFL.ca for continuing coverage of training camp as the 2018 regular season approaches.
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