May 27, 2022

O’Leary: Elks’ QB battle moves into pre-season


When the Edmonton Elks’ depth chart was released on Thursday, anyone that opened it up did so hoping for some answers.

Technically, there is an order to the Elks’ quarterbacks that will play at IG Field tonight in pre-season action against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Second-year pivot Taylor Cornelius is listed as the starter, with Nick Arbuckle backing him up. Canadian rookie Tre Ford is third on the list, with another first-year player, UTEP alum Kai Locksley, at fourth.

If you’ve followed, or attempted to follow the battle that’s taking place for the Elks’ starting quarterback job these last few weeks, you know it’s not that simple. Elks’ general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator Chris Jones said that all four of his quarterbacks would see the field in Winnipeg but hasn’t tipped his hat more than that yet on who he might like as his starter.

“He’s probably in the lead, I would say,” Dave Campbell, the colour analyst for the Elks on 630 CHED in Edmonton said of Cornelius.

“I think overall they covet a quarterback that can move and throw. I think that’s why they drafted Tre Ford. I think that’s why…every other quarterback on the roster is alike, except for Nick Arbuckle.”

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That’s the Elks’ quarterbacking situation in a nutshell. From the outside, Arbuckle, whom the Elks traded for late last season before an entire regime change, would be penciled in as the team’s starter. The 28-year-old has three seasons and 43 games’ experience in the league, backing up Bo Levi Mitchell in Calgary for two years before having a brief time as the starter in Toronto. Jones said through the off-season that the quarterback spot would be an open battle and at the midpoint of training camp, that’s what we’ve got.

“Taylor is taking a step forward, I think as far as his understanding of the game,” Campbell said. “He moves well, he has a big arm. The problem is he keeps throwing interceptions.

“In 12-on-12, he’s probably thrown one pick a period. That’s something you can’t do. That’s his biggest problem. I think last year, he had two games for sure where it was a game-ending pick. His ball protection skills are the thing that’s going to hurt him the most if he doesn’t correct it.

“But his movement, his arm talent, it’s there. He’s able to get the ball down the field, he’s able to get himself out of trouble. But it’s decision making. It’s just the bad throw or the bad interception at the wrong time of the game or the wrong part of the field that he has to get over.”

Arbuckle’s in-game action against the Bombers should be interesting.

“I think he’s their best guy. Doesn’t necessarily mean he will be the guy but he has been their best guy since camp started,” Campbell said.

“He got off to a slow start (in camp) but…he looks prepared. He looks poised. He looks like a guy who’s been there, done that before in the league, even though his sample size is small. Clearly, you can tell he’s learned under some other great quarterbacks like Bo Levi Mitchell.

“He’s able to kind of bring his own style. His accuracy has been really good, he’s been fearless in the pocket, he makes the right decisions. He’s able to get the ball down the field. Now, he doesn’t move as well as the other three. He’s not terrible, but I think that might be something that kind of is a bit of a detriment to him, because he doesn’t have that skill set.

“It’s hard to know what the coaching staff thinks of him truly, but he’s been getting his fair share of reps with the ones. Even when he’s just out there with whoever, he’s performed at the best level out of all of them. I think he’s played really, really well. I think he’s making Jones’ job tougher because he’s proving that I’m the one you need to play.”

Tre Ford has impressed at the Elks’ training camp, with the rookie showing great escapability as he learns the pro game (Photo:

Campbell has also been surprised by the impact that Ford has been able to have. The 2021 Hec Crighton winner out of the University of Waterloo has looked comfortable at the pro level, though it may take some time for him to climb up the depth chart.

“The one thing I like about him is he’s got that Russell Wilson-type of escapability. He can throw on the run pretty good,” Campbell said.

“I think the two areas that I would say he has to improve are on pre-snap. He’s taken numerous time counts (in practice). And I think there are times where he sits in the pocket and pats the ball and wants to look down the field and make something happen, but he’s got to move. He’s got to make the decision quicker. He’s just sitting there back in the pocket, he’s a bit of a sitting duck.

“I do think he’s improved and I do think he’s pushing Cornelius, to be honest with you, although I don’t think he’ll probably supplant him as starter or backup. I do think it’s definitely something to watch down the road.”

As for Locksley, Campbell sees a poised player that moves his feet well, but only when he needs to.

“I don’t see a lot of happy feet,” he said. “Locksley and Arbuckle are very good at setting their feet and being very patient and calm. If there’s pressure, it’s step to the left, step to the right, step up or step out and change your trajectory. His throwing mechanics are so-so but I think it’s someone I could see as a practice roster candidate.”

While Mike Beaudry isn’t on the depth chart as a QB, he remains on the roster. Postmedia’s Gerry Moddejonge reported this week that Beaudry may be used as a receiver and Campbell wonders if we’ll see the six-foot-five, 248-pounder out of Idaho brought in for rushing or receiving plays and used on special teams, the way Jones did with Jordan Lynch in his first go-round in Edmonton in 2014 and 2015.

Besides the excitement for the players to face actual opponents and break up the routine of training camp, the Elks’ two pre-season contents will be crucial for Jones and his staff as they zero in on a starter. Practice and drills can only tell you so much.

“The games tell the story ultimately, why a player either made the team or didn’t make the team, barring injuries,” Campbell said.

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