June 17, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: First impressions matter

The Canadian Press

The winter of 2019 saw unprecedented movement in free agency, but it also set us up for a long waiting game. How would these big name players look in their new uniforms? It took us four months to find out, and on a few fronts, the answers we received were extremely positive.

Mike Reilly was without a doubt the biggest name that moved as free agency opened up. But while he was struggling in his first start with the BC Lions, his replacement in Edmonton was living up to the hype. Trevor Harris’s debut with the Eskimos was as good as you could have asked for, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Harris came to Edmonton after three strong years in Ottawa and a well-earned reputation as an accurate and effective passer. After all, he entered 2019 as the CFL’s most accurate passer ever, active or retired. Coming into the season, Harris was clipping at over 70 per cent for his career completion record, albeit with plenty of football still to be played.

He lived up to that in a big way in Friday’s 32-25 Eskimos at home to Montreal. Harris completed almost 80 per cent of his 41 passes against the Als, throwing for 447 yards and three touchdowns; he rushed for an additional major, as well. While the expectations were high, fans in Edmonton had to be breathing a little easier knowing the big shoes Harris was signed to fill.

» Rewind: All the best highlights from Week 1
» Harris lights it up in Eskimos debut
» Campbell on Davis: ‘He has those traits’


Again, though, this shouldn’t be shocking. The fit with Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Jason Maas seemed pretty natural on paper; it looked even more seamless on the field. The Esks also surrounded Harris with a talented group, including longtime Ottawa teammate Greg Ellingson at receiver. It’s one week, but things are off to a very nice start.

Now, if you were to look solely at the passing line of Dominique Davis from Saturday night, you’d be rather shocked to see him mentioned alongside Harris’s debut. However, Davis’s debut game as Ottawa’s number one quarterback was more about just the stats. In reality, it was still very impressive.

Davis threw four interceptions and no touchdown passes against the Calgary Stampeders in Week 1. In saying that, Davis also accounted for all three REDBLACKS touchdowns by running in a trio of scores. That included the game winning score with less than 90 seconds to go as Ottawa stunned the Stamps 32-28 at home.

While throwing four picks is never a positive, it can be mitigated for Davis by a couple factors. By and large, actually, he was actually fairly accurate; he finished over 65 per cent with 276 yards passing. More importantly, Davis showed multiple times he has the ability to put together long scoring drives at the helm.

Davis put together a pair of long touchdown drives in the first two quarters to keep Ottawa close heading into the half. Both drives started at Ottawa’s 24 yard line and were setup by some impressive Davis passing, along with a heck of a game from tailback Mossis Madu. Both first half drives culminated in Davis one-yard plunges, which he deserves credit for, because he helped put the team in that position.

The game winning drive for Davis wasn’t as long, but was equally impressive. After Calgary gave the REDBLACKS great field position with a poorly timed no yards penalty, Davis went bang-bang to RJ Harris and Brad Sinopoli for 18 and 24 yard pickups, respectively. Then, from the five, Davis showed off his high level athleticism by outrunning defenders to the cone for a leaping score.

Harris and Davis had very different looking games, and yet the fans of the teams they play for had to be impressed. Both had big shoes to fill: Davis is replacing Harris who’s replacing Reilly. At least for one week, those shoes were filled just fine.

We’re still here

New faces definitely made lots of news in Week 1. On top of the two guys already mentioned, William Powell impressed in his Riders debut while Lemar Durant and Duron Carter both looked good in their first game with BC. But don’t forget about a few mainstays who proved they aren’t going anywhere.

Some are concerned Andrew Harris is poised to take a step back in 2019. Personally, I don’t understand where the sentiment comes from. Yes, he’s 32, but Harris has shown precisely no signs of slowing down. In fact, last year at 31, he had his most productive and impressive season of his Hall of Fame career. Harris picked up where he left on Saturday night.

Harris spoiled Reilly’s debut with the Lions as he put Winnipeg on his back with a performance we’ve seen many times before. In a 33-23 Bombers win, Harris led the way with 148 rushing yards to go along with 27 yards through the air. Get used to a lot of him in 2019; if Week 1 is any indication, it looks like Winnipeg’s offence will run through Harris once again.

Buy Week 2 Tickets
» Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET: Saskatchewan at Ottawa
» Friday, 9:00 p.m. ET: BC at Edmonton
» Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET: Hamilton at Toronto

I’ll be honest; I was unsure of what we’d see from Brandon Banks to start the season. Coming off a season ending injury last year, and with a brand new offensive coordinator, I wasn’t sure if Banks would be in a spot to hit the ground running in 2019. I guess those thoughts were unfounded, because he looked just fine on Thursday night.

Banks was Hamilton’s leading receiver as they topped Saskatchewan 23-17 to kick off the season, and he was in fine form. Banks caught the only passing touchdown for the Ticats on Thursday and did so in typical fashion. He got behind the Roughriders secondary and hauled in a 41-yard major to give Hamilton their first lead.

The main reason I was uncertain about the type of start Banks would get off to is the departure of June Jones. Banks turned into a bona fide superstar under Jones after being mainly used as a returner prior. It looks like new offensive coordinator Tommy Condell is fully aware of how dynamic and explosive Banks is, as he was a focal point of that offence against Saskatchewan.

Finally, did anyone happen to see what CJ Gable got up to over the weekend? While his quarterback was shooting the lights out, Gable was putting together a big night of his own for the Eskimos. Gable pounded the ball all night and finished with 154 rushing yards to go along with 29 through the air and a receiving touchdown.

Gable was very much feast-or-famine in 2018, mainly because of how pass-heavy Edmonton was with Reilly at quarterback. I’m curious to see how consistently we see Gable used this season, though, because the guy is still a big time impact maker.