May 21, 2023

O’Leary: Preseason arrives with questions for all

When the Edmonton Elks and the Calgary Stampeders set foot on the turf at McMahon Stadium on Monday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, available on CFL Preseason Live), it’ll be far from your standard, regular season game.

Taylor Cornelius? Jake Maier? Don’t expect to see a lot of them.

Eugene Lewis? Malik Henry? Ka’Deem Carey, Kevin Brown? Probably not much.

We know where the stars of each of these teams stand and what’s expected of them this season. Monday’s game and the other eight that will follow before things get real in Week 1 — which kicks off, appropriately enough back in Calgary on June 8 — is about the players that we may not know quite well yet.

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The preseason is here and with Monday afternoon’s kickoff, we’ll start to see how rosters might take shape for this season.

For the game that’s in front of us tomorrow, we can expect something of a youth movement from the Elks. Beyond Cornelius etched in as their. No. 1 pivot, Tre Ford stands firmly as the No. 2. 630 CHED’s Dave Campbell anticipates that much, with the exception of the offensive line, which can provide quality protection to allow the Elks’ coaching staff to give Kai Locksley a good look.

You can expect something similar from the home team in Monday’s game, even with Stamps general manager and head coach Dave Dickenson saying it’s possible he’ll throw some of his starters in the game for up to a half.

Maier is obviously The Guy in Calgary, but Dickenson said from that second spot would be an open competition, despite Tommy Stevens — perhaps the scrambliest QB in the league, based on what we saw from him last season — having a strong showing in the role last year.

That leaves Stevens with a two other QBs in Red and White — Logan Bonner and Chris Reynolds — vying for some on-field time both on Monday and into the Stamps’ final preseason game on Thursday, June 1 in BC.

Perhaps the greatest perk of the recently announced CFL Preseason Live is that you can have eyes on these kinds of storylines over the next three weekends for every team in the league, if you want to.

We know that the Lions have exceptional QB depth with Vernon Adams Jr. and Dane Evans, but who’s coming out of Kamloops with the starting running back job? With Trevor Harris set to miss the Riders’ first preseason game to be with his wife for the birth of their child, what will their QB depth look like against the Lions next Saturday? How’s that kickers’ battle shaping up in Winnipeg? Can some new faces at receiver step in to make plays in Hamilton this year? Which young REDBLACKS linebacker will replace the recently released Patrick Levels? In Montreal, can rookie receiver Keshunn Abram — who worked his way into first-team reps early in camp — keep up his high level of play?

The Argos will turn to Chad Kelly as their starter this year and will determine the order of his backups over the next two weeks (The Canadian Press)

The most interesting question out of camps so far to me, as the Argos get ready to face the Ticats on Saturday, is what does their quarterback stable look like this year? Chad Kelly has been anointed the starter in the wake of McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s off-season departure, but you could make the argument for him getting some value out of preseason reps. When he’s not on the field, things will remain interesting for the Argos. Cameron Dukes, Ben Holmes and Bryan Scott are all vying for spots behind Kelly, with only Holmes having any kind of prior CFL experience. The 28-year-old went from Montreal to Edmonton to Toronto last year, being on the roster for two games in that process, but recording no stats.

Preseason football doesn’t carry the same punch that it does in the regular season, there’s no question about that. What it does, though, is provide glimpses of talent and tests fans’ eyes as evaluators in those moments. There will be legitimate talent on the field these next three weekends, with players fighting to separate themselves to earn spots on rosters. This year, fans have the opportunity to see as much of this evaluation process as they want.

Either way, Sunday marks the first depth charts of the year being produced, even if it’s for a game that in some ways will be forgotten as soon as it’s over. Regardless, we’ve got football to look forward to on Monday, and plenty more of it in front of us from here.

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