TORONTO — Normally, pre-season games aren’t something I get too excited about in any sport.
Your starters are used sparingly, shedding off-season rust while everyone around them does everything they can to make sure they get in and out of their game time healthy. The systems that teams run can be tamed down versions of what they’re really working on in practices and a lot of times, the players you do see on the field aren’t there the day after the games, when roster decisions have to be made.
This year feels different.
When the Argos and REDBLACKS kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET (watch on TSN), it will mark the first pre-season game the league has held since 2019. The pandemic, of course, wiped out the 2020 season and it spilled into the 2021 campaign as well, with the league jumping into action for its shortened 14-game schedule last August.
So while things won’t have changed on the field — expect most starters to be used sparingly, if at all and to see some new faces in their place — it’ll be nice to sit back, see some familiar venues on TV for the first time in months and get a sense of normalcy that’s eluded us for a very long time. Here are some storylines to follow as the pre-season gets rolling.
It’s Schoen-tell time in Winnipeg
Going into camp, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were a team that appeared to be perhaps the toughest roster for a fresh face to crack. The two-time defending Grey Cup champs are primed for a run at a three-peat. They know who they are and as camps opened, they knew what they had on the field. Dalton Schoen is proving to be a wrinkle — the good kind — to those plans. The 25-year-old will get the start at Jalen Saunders‘ recently vacated spot. A strong showing against the Edmonton Elks tonight could see the former Kansas State product work his way into the starting lineup when the Bombers’ season opens on June 10.
A glimpse of Edmonton’s QB future
The Elks’ quarterback battle is arguably the No. 1 storyline out of training camps across the league. Tonight in Winnipeg, we’ll see someone try to take a firm lead in that race.
Taylor Cornelius is listed as the starter for Edmonton, with Nick Arbuckle backing him up. Elks’ GM, head coach and defensive coordinator Chris Jones told reporters this week that he’d give all four of his QBs on the depth chart — bringing Tre Ford and Kai Locksley into the mix — some time against the Bombers.
While Jones appears to be leaning toward Cornelius, a strong showing from him or Arbuckle could help guide the coaching staff’s decision on their QB1. As 630 CHED’s Dave Campbell told CFL.ca, this might be a two-horse battle in the big picture, but Ford is making a good impression in his first-ever CFL camp.
Bonus subplot: The Ford brothers — Tre in Edmonton and Tyrell, a defensive back with Winnipeg — could go against each other after having grown up playing football together.
A look at Chad Kelly
The Argos are set with their starting quarterback, handing the offensive keys to McLeod Bethel-Thompson after he won the job midseason over Nick Arbuckle, but their backup spot could be an interesting battle. Antonio Pipkin has the experience, having spent three years in Montreal before joining the Argos in 2021, but Chad Kelly is a fresh and interesting face in Argos camp this year.
The nephew of hall of fame QB Jim Kelly, Chad makes his way to the CFL after spending time with Indianapolis and Denver in the NFL between 2017 and 2020. Pipkin will get the start tonight in Ottawa, with Kelly as the backup while Bethel-Thompson rests, likely to see some time next week against Hamilton.
An opportunity opens up in Ottawa
The news of REDBLACKS’ defensive end Kwaku Boateng‘s Achilles tear is a gutting one both for him and his new team. Boateng was one of GM Shawn Burke’s higher profile signings in a busy off-season and stood to bring some major ratio-friendly energy to the defensive line.
Appreciate everyone that has reached out or kept me in their prayers. This Achilles injury won’t stop me, I’ll be back stronger 🤞🏿
— Kwaku Boateng (@KwakuBoat3ng) May 26, 2022
If the REDBLACKS want to stay Canadian at that spot, they’ve got a few options. Friday night’s game could be a big opportunity for Clement Lebreux, for Kene Onyeka and Nigel Romick. That trio has tonight and next week’s contest against Montreal to make an impression on head coach Paul LaPolice and defensive coordinator Mike Benevides.
A return for Addison
In 2019, Bralon Addison established himself as a force with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, pulling in a career-best 1,236 yards. His 2021 season didn’t yield the same success. The 28-year-old was hampered by injuries last year, stuck on the six-game injured list and only managing to get into three regular-season games. The departure of Brandon Banks creates an opportunity for every receiver on the Ticats’ roster, but a healthy Addison — who’s getting the start Saturday night against Montreal — should be a key figure in replacing Banks’ production and his presence as a leader on the team.