May 23, 2023

O’Leary: Panning for preseason gold after Elks-Stamps

The Canadian Press

While I’ve never panned for gold — save for a can-you-find-these-painted rocks game at a summer festival once when I was a kid — preseason football has what I’d imagine is a similar feel.

The process itself can be something of a grind, sifting through players that are in the process of shifting from training camp strangers into actual, functioning teammates. They’re learning offensive/defensive/special teams schemes, many of them adapting to the Canadian rules to the game and trying to build chemistry, all while going at real-life, full-speed for the first time since training camps opened.

In short, a lot’s happening and being asked of the players on the field, with the pressure of trying to make their respective teams hanging over them.

So when you think you’ve found a nugget in this frenetic football environment, it’s a very cool thing. Here are a few that jumped out to me on holiday Monday, when the Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders finally made it through their weather-impacted marathon of a game.

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 O’Leary: Preseason arrives with questions for all
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Saying hello to CFL Preseason Live  

Please allow for some in-house back patting here to get things started. CFL Preseason Live debuted on Monday, thanks to some heavy internal lifting from the hardworking folks behind the scenes at and connected to the CFL. The scoreboard feed looked sharp and the radio feed of Mark Stephen and Greg Peterson at CHQR meshed perfectly with the action we were seeing in front of us. For fans that were outside of Calgary, or some that were perhaps chased off by the combo of wildfire smoke and a heavy halftime thunderstorm, there was a viable alternative that allowed them to keep tabs on their teams.

With a Friday evening game and three games taking place on Saturday, fans should feel more connected to their teams than they ever have at this point in the year (you can also catch Friday’s Montreal Alouettes-Ottawa REDBLACKS game on TSN).

Two names to get used to?


Jarret Doege will have been an Edmonton Elk for just two months — he signed on April 3 — if he makes it through training camp. His showing on Monday afternoon let him make his case. The 25-year-old out of Troy made 11-14 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Stamps. In that chaotic preseason environment we mentioned above, Doege put together an efficient day’s work. Taylor Cornelius and Tre Ford are locked in at the No. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, in Edmonton. Doege’s strong game should have head coach and general manager Chris Jones and his staff thinking about what that third-string spot will look like this season.

On the other end of Doege’s touchdown was rookie receiver Maurice Ffrench. His 45-yard TD reception was the first trip to the end zone of the game and helped the Pittsburgh product to an also efficient 10 catches on 12 targets for 119 yards and that touchdown. The Elks’ receiving corps is very, very top heavy, but Ffrench took advantage of his opportunity and showed everyone what he’s capable of.

Clark Barnes‘ debut

You wonder what Clark Barnes was feeling on Monday. He’d waited his whole life to step onto a professional football field, then found out on game day he’d have to wait an extra half hour, thanks to the air quality delay. When he finally got out there, he showed that he belonged. The Stamps’ third round pick in this year’s CFL Draft, Barnes had just the one catch, but the 26-yard reception came in the end zone, after he’d slipped behind the Elks’ defence. The 22-year-old ran the ball up into the stands to give to his mom, Mark Stephen told us during the game. He also showed some more of that blazing speed of his, with a nice looking 16-yard punt return.

Rookies will no doubt have their ups and downs through the course of a season, but it was great to see Barnes start the season and his career off on a high note.

A burgeoning backup QB battle in Calgary? 

Did Logan Bonner’s play give Dave Dickenson some things to think about before their final preseason game? (The Canadian Press)

I write that thinking that the backup QB spot will probably go to Tommy Stevens. He knows the system, played well last year and showed some of those same strengths on Monday. But just like in Edmonton, where Doege made good use of his game time, so too did Logan Bonner, who came in in the fourth quarter and found Luther Hakunavanhu for a touchdown on his first drive of the day.

One of the perks of that weather delay that stretched out the halftime yesterday was hearing former Stamps’ great Tom Forzani, himself a Utah State alum, say that he was eager to see what Bonner, who spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons there, could do in that game.

Bonner didn’t disappoint. The stat line is limited (3-6 passing for 71 yards with that one TD) but the 25-year-old played well. Dave Dickenson said that the No. 2 spot would be a battle and that it wasn’t simply Stevens’. Bonner may have made that battle a little more interesting with his play.

We’ll use this space here to wonder if Hakunavanhu — a National heading into his third season — could take a leap this year. He has the size and playmaking ability, with five career touchdowns and just 539 career receiving yards to this point, to feature more prominently in Dickenson’s offence this year.

About that two-point convert

As Bonner and the Stamps lined up for that two-point convert following Hakunavanhu’s TD, it felt like the perfect preseason moment. It was a great chance for Dickenson to have his team run through the two-point scenario, with nothing at stake. That their first attempt was flagged, with an Edmonton penalty letting them try it again made it even better. Two live cracks at a play that you know you’ll want to use at some point in the regular season is pretty valuable.

Keeping Faithfull? 

Dean Faithfull (right) is looking to crack his first CFL roster at the age of 36 (The Canadian Press)

As Postmedia’s Gerry Moddejonge pointed out in his story last night, Elks Global kicker Dean Faithfull turned 36 on Tuesday. He was 3-4 on his field goal attempts in Calgary. Faitfhull was the second overall pick in the Global Draft this year. A former NCAA Div II soccer player, Faitfhull picked up American football, went back to college in 2021 and averaged 58.8 yards on 44 kickoffs at Colorado State University Pueblo.

The Fareham, Hampshire, England native will learn his fate with the Elks likely after the team’s preseason finale on Saturday against the Blue Bombers. If he’s able to stick in the CFL, it’ll be an excellent chapter in a very unique football story.

Cornelius’ day of rest

This time a year ago, Taylor Cornelius was fighting for his football-playing life. He came out of the Elks’ 2022 camp as their fourth-string quarterback but managed to work his way up to the No. 1 spot, signing an extension with the club that has him as the starter through next season.

We’ll shout out Gerry Moddejonge again here for going more in-depth on this earlier in training camp. It’s quite a turn of events over the last year for Cornelius, who many had counted out amidst the Elks’ shortcomings through the season. He worked his way into being one of the bright spots in that win-starved campaign. That he didn’t have to go out and prove himself on Monday was a nice reward for that hard work.

Gerry also deserves a shoutout for being an excellent travel companion on the Elks beat over the years and for his ability to polish off a prime rib at the drop of a hat, anywhere in the country.

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