Landry: All eyes are on quarterbacks in Edmonton
CFL.ca will be previewing the 2022 season, taking an in-depth look at each of the nine teams as they get set to hit the field.
It is the most intriguing piece of the Edmonton Elks puzzle heading into the 2022 season.
The big question is not hard to see. It revolves around the starting quarterback and you have to wonder whether the team has what it needs at the position in order to climb back into contender’s status in the West.
Edmonton general manager and head coach Chris Jones will work his usual magic in areas we have known him to work it in the past. The defence will start morphing into one of the best in the CFL, probably by about Labour Day, if not sooner. The reliable Sergio Castillo will ensure the Elks do not suffer much from the scourge of field goal points left off the board.
The offence will enjoy some prosperity when running back James Wilder Jr. is given the ball, which might well be often. In Wilder the Elks have a proven, dominant backfield presence who can be a powerful runner as well as an explosive YAC man on short pass patterns. But there is only so far they can go on his shoulders, on offence. The Elks need a trigger-man who can get the ball to the likes of receivers Kenny Lawler and Derel Walker on a consistent basis.
There are ‘ifs’. There are ‘ands.’ Along with those — as always — there are ‘buts.’ All of them have a place in answers to the biggest questions the Elks face in 2022: Who is Nick Arbuckle? Can he emerge as a consistent starter? If he cannot, do the Elks have an answer in another quarterback on the roster?
That the Elks made a push to try and sign veteran Jeremiah Masoli during free agency was telling, even after the team had given Arbuckle a re-worked contract and, reportedly, a sizeable signing bonus. If Arbuckle is currently at the top of the Edmonton quarterbacking pyramid, there is not much doubt that Masoli would have been at the apex had he decided on Green and Gold instead of the Red and Black in Ottawa.
Here’s an if: If Arbuckle is the quarterback some of us think he is, then things will work out just swell for the Elks and for the 28-year-old journeyman from Oxnard, CA.
Watching Arbuckle sub in for an injured Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary back in 2019, it seemed — to me at least — that he was a young quarterback who just ‘got it’ almost from the get-go. One of those quick studies who would surely, smoothly climb the ladder to stardom. That the Stampeders traded him to Ottawa was no surprise, really. Arbuckle was not going to unseat Bo, of course, and he would have walked for an opportunity in free agency anyway.
That the REDBLACKS decided to let him go without him ever throwing a pass for them perplexed me, even if they did it in order to reunite head coach Paul LaPolice with veteran Matt Nichols, who was coming off major shoulder surgery. That the Toronto Argonauts, Arbuckle’s next team, traded him away to the Elks, last autumn, perplexed me even more.
Arbuckle had injury troubles and was limited to just seven games of action prior to the trade. It didn’t seem to me the Argos had seen, fully, what Arbuckle could be. But had they? When the Elks held him out of the line-up for the rest of the season once they’d gotten him my level of perplexity rose even higher.
I’ve been thinking Arbuckle has the tools necessary to be a successful CFL quarterback. Others aren’t so sure. What I think all can agree on is that, without a doubt, this is Nick Arbuckle’s time to shine. It’s his time to step up and into the role of reliable — if not game-changing — QB1.
If he does that, the Elks will enjoy a strong resurgence. If he does not, do the Elks have an answer in another uniform number?
Because if Arbuckle is not up to the task, someone else is going to have to be in order for the Elks to really shed the memories of an abysmal 2021, a season that saw the team struggle to a record of 3-11, scoring a paltry 16.8 points on offence per game, better only than Ottawa’s 13.4 points per game.
Taylor Cornelius is an intriguing possibility, due to his familiarity.
The 26-year-old Texan has a rocket-launcher for an arm but he comes to camp after nine inconsistent appearances in 2021. Sometimes, though, the best thing for a rookie quarterback is an off-season of reflection. Will months of letting things sink in show us a confident second-year man?
Below Arbuckle and Cornelius, lots of inexperience but plenty of moldable talent. It would be unfair to expect one of Khalil Tate, Kai Locksley, Keon Howard, Cardale Jones or Mike Beaudry to come in and proceed to burn a succession of barns, but it happens occasionally, right?
Jones was added to the roster just last week, bringing the Edmonton training camp passers total up to seven (J.T. Barrett was added to the ‘retired’ list after being injured). Jones is the oldest quarterback in the pack. At 29, he’s spent time in Buffalo, Los Angeles and Seattle and also had a stint in the XFL.
Twenty-three-year-old Tate threw for over 6,300 yards in four seasons at the University of Arizona and he rushed for almost 2,300 over the same period. Another 23-year-old, Howard, comes in off an outstanding 2021 season with the University of Tennessee at Martin, throwing for 1,811 yards and rushing for 472 more, on 96 carries.
Locksley, 25, brings with him a story that has been very familiar to a host of CFL quarterbacks in the past; although he had a good college career slinging footballs for the University of Texas at El Paso, the Miami Dolphins thought he’d be better off as a receiver. He’ll try to show they were wrong about that.
Beaudry — born in Regina but who played his high school football in Florida and his college ball at West Florida and Idaho — is a big, big quarterback. The 24-year-old stands six-foot-five and weighs 250 pounds.
His birth certificate makes him a National and that distinction brings us to a quarterback I have not yet mentioned.
Tre Ford, the Elks’ second first-round pick in the 2022 draft (eighth overall) received invitations to both the New York Giants’ and Baltimore Ravens’ rookie mini-camps. If he happens to land in Edmonton (note: Shortly after this column was posted, Postmedia’s Dan Barnes reported that Ford had stated he will be at Edmonton rookie camp next week) the Elks will have a young man that Jones called the best athlete in the draft in their colours. It would be fascinating to see how Jones brings the rookie along as the season unfolds.
Ifs, ands, buts. That’s the Edmonton Elks QB room at present.
If he doesn’t take off at the sound of the pistol then what Jones gets out of the various levels of untapped potential he has instead will go a long way in determining just how much of a rebound the Edmonton Elks can enjoy in 2022.