Training camps have opened and the 2023 season is finally almost upon us.
Across the league, players and coaches alike have hit the turf in their respective cities as they begin preparation for the upcoming campaign.
From figuring out the roles of the receivers in Edmonton to building confidence in the nation’s capital, CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson has one training camp wish for every team.
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BC Lions | Lean Into The VA Vibes
Vernon Adams Jr.’s career arc is one of the most interesting I’ve seen while covering the Canadian Football League. From bouncing around the league, to a 2018 Ticats training camp where he lost out to Dane Evans for reps, to turning his career around to the point of becoming worth a first round draft pick in BC and leading off-season workouts.
Now VA brings an added layer of maturity and growth to the Lions with Evans hot on his heels for reps, but make no mistake, this is still the entertaining, deep ball-daring VA you know and love with plenty of threats ready to make plays down the field for him.
My wish for the Lions is to absorb VA’s energy, confidence and daredevil mentality while finding a maturity and balance in the locker room that will allow them to push the CFL’s best deep into November.
Edmonton Elks | Figure Out The Receiver Roles
Signing a bunch of pass-catchers is always a fun way to sell tickets and create hype, but what will it actually mean to the on-field product? My wish for Edmonton is to test what is possible on usage rates and target percentages with Eugene Lewis and Steven Dunbar Jr. mixing in amongst Dillon Mitchell and Kyran Moore.
This might not be something Edmonton can finalize before playing a real game, but I believe it’s integral to the Elks avoiding a sluggish start to the season.
Calgary Stampeders | Push The Tempo, Push The Ball Downfield
Jake Maier is smart, patient and makes the right throw at the right time. I don’t doubt any of that, but this isn’t life and death with a big game on the line. Training camp is a time for Calgary to experiment and push the limits of what a Maier-led offence can achieve.
They need to get on the ball, see what tempo looks like, operate fast at the line of scrimmage, take chances with the football and learn from it all before the snaps count. The Stampeders are a team in evolution and training camp is the best time to see what’s possible all the while knowing what they have consistently in-house.
Saskatchewan Roughriders | Let It Fly!
When playing from behind in the Eastern Final last November, Trevor Harris opened it up and threw vertically with great precision. In a group which includes Canadians Kian Schaffer-Baker, Samuel Emilus and Brayden Lenius, I’d love to see Saskatchewan ask Trevor to see what type of deep ball chemistry he can create in camp as a way to offset what sounds like could be a very run-focused attack under the new offensive coordination of Kelly Jeffrey
Winnipeg Blue Bombers | Every Year Has To Be A New Beginning
I’ve been re-watching ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’ since the CFL Draft as a way to kill time before we really got the training camp ball rolling. The challenge with those elite Bulls teams was to find a new motivation, message and energy each training camp as success continued to follow.
The Bombers aren’t at Jordan’s Bulls level of success, but they’re unquestionably the most consistent and formidable team in the CFL week in and week out in the post-pandemic CFL era.
With Mike O’Shea serving as the Bombers’ Phil Jackson, camp can’t get stale. That’s not a problem I expect to see coming off a Grey Cup loss and the chance to win another in Hamilton this year as Winnipeg did in 2021.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Set The Stage For A Quick Start
Go through the history of big name quarterbacks joining new teams and you typically see a slow start as all the moving pieces try to sort themselves out. With Bo Levi Mitchell coming to Hamilton, I believe there is a lot left in the tank, but the same old story of taking the first month to figure out chemistry won’t do it for the 2023 Tiger-Cats.
Get everyone up to speed and moving in the same direction NOW to avoid the excuse machine getting cranked up. Whether that means leaning on Bo’s favourite concepts designed with offensive coordinator Tommy Condell in the off-season, seeing a pillaged defensive backfield gel or adapting James Butler’s skills to the black and gold attack. This group has way too much potential and pressure on them to wander through the first four weeks learning about themselves. It’s a tremendous task for head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
Toronto Argonauts | Solve The Swag Kelly Rubik’s Cube
With McLeod Bethel-Thompson no longer in double blue, the Argos have to figure out what makes Chad Kelly tick, and do it ASAP. With limited CFL experience and the hype of a player his background, the risk is always present that it’s too much, too soon.
Everyone I’ve spoken to says Kelly is naive – in a good way – to the challenges in front of him and will put on a show, but for the Argos to have REAL, sustained winning and statistical success this season, it’s about much more than plugging and playing Kelly. They have to get to know his good and bad, how to handle the dips in confidence or performance, and manage the highs in a way that Kelly can see the season out from start to finish as a locker room leader.
Ottawa REDBLACKS | Build Confidence
The team has not won a home game in forever. The starting quarterback is being worked in slowly coming off a traumatic injury. There is a new head coach in Bob Dyce and two new coordinators.
That’s a lot, plus if you factor in the roster fluctuation and an East Division that looks to be highly competitive, you quickly realize that this training camp has to be about establishing and reinforcing confidence, day by day, meeting by meeting until everyone in Ottawa trusts they can shake off the painful demons of yesteryear. I believe they can do it, but believing and seeing are two totally different conversations and it will be on everyone to change the narrative in Ottawa this training camp.
Montreal Alouettes | Maximize Greg Ellingson
After losing Jake Wieneke and Eugene Lewis in free agency, I am extremely excited to see how much work the Canadian duo of Tyson Philpot and Kaion Julien-Grant will get as the season progresses, but the real key will be a healthy and productive Greg Ellingson.
When he was a 100 per cent early in the year for Winnipeg last season, Ellingson was one of the best pass-catchers in the game. Now in Montreal, he will be asked to pick up a heavy number of targets and touches to make good on the Als’ personnel losses.
Can he do it? What will that look like in Jason Maas’ offence? That’s what this camp is about for Montreal’s offence. They need to find a way to really understand what their passing game will look like before Cody Fajardo and co. have to do it under the lights Week 1 against a revamped REDBLACKS secondary.