We are full swing into the 2023 preseason with five games in the books and plenty to sink our teeth into. With so much quarterback movement over the winter, that position is the one I had my eye on most during the first week of the exhibition schedule.
While there are still a few projected starters to make their preseason debuts, there were some promising performances over the last week.
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Dane Evans, BC Lions
While we wait for Vernon Adams Jr. to get into his first tune-up game, off-season addition Evans played well in Saturday’s 30-27 loss to Saskatchewan. Acquired from Hamilton in February to help upgrade their quarterback depth, Evans was by far the most effective of the three BC pivots to see action in Regina.
Playing parts of the first three quarters, Evans finished 13-for-16 with 162 passing yards and a touchdown to go along with another touchdown on the ground. He moved the ball effectively and gave Lions fans a glimpse of what we saw when Evans started 11 games during the 2019 season.
Adams is, and should be, on top of BC’s quarterback depth chart to start the season. He earned that with his play after coming over late in the 2022 season. But having a strong preseason performance from Evans is encouraging knowing how likely it is the Lions, and most teams, will use multiple quarterbacks this year.
Bryan Scott, Toronto Argonauts
Elbow tightness made starter Chad Kelly a late scratch in Toronto’s preseason opener Saturday in Hamilton, which meant the backup battle was on full display. And it wasn’t returnee Ben Holmes, the presumed frontrunner for number two on the depth chart, who stood out the most.
Instead, it was newcomer Bryan Scott stealing the show in the second half. Scott, who spent last season in the USFL with Philadelphia, was accurate and elusive in his four series at the helm. He finished 16-for-18 with 155 passing yards and two touchdowns in an impressive display.
It’s important to note that Scott’s time came in the second half against defenders further down Hamilton’s depth chart. But Holmes, who got the start in lieu of Kelly, struggled in the first quarter. He completed just three of eight passes for 37 yards and threw two interceptions. Suffice to say, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie’s decision looks like it might be even more difficult with one more preseason game to go.
Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa REDBLACKS
While we expect Jeremiah Masoli to retake his spot as Ottawa’s No. 1 quarterback to start the season, he’s not going to play during the preseason. As such, that leaves a little uncertainty in the early going. Encouragingly, though, Arbuckle looked right at home running the offence in two plus quarters as the REDBLACKS fell 22-21 to Montreal.
Arbuckle got off to a red-hot start before settling in and finished 15-for-25 with 209 yards and looked comfortable and in control. It’s a good sign for Arbuckle, who enters his first full season in Ottawa. If Masoli isn’t quite ready to start the year, Arbuckle’s preseason performance certainly bodes well.
Still to come
As mentioned, we still have a few quarterbacks to see suit up for the first time this preseason. If his elbow allows, we should see Kelly get the start Thursday for the Argos when they host Ottawa in Guelph. And while he’s clearly Toronto’s guy, I still think preseason reps are important for Kelly knowing he’s started just one game since 2016.
Adams should also suit up for the first time when the Lions host Calgary on Thursday night. With receivers like Lucky Whitehead, Dominique Rhymes and Keon Hatcher all back, there should be a great deal of familiarity for Adams with this BC offence.
“There’s a comfort level there,” head coach Rick Campbell told the Vancouver Province last week. “They worked together last year and now they knew what the situation was going to be the whole off-season so now they can put it in to action here.”
Cody Fajardo is set to make his Montreal debut Friday at home to the Tiger-Cats. The Als went with Caleb Evans, Davis Alexander and Mike Glass over the weekend in Ottawa, which was expected on the road. Make no mistake, though, Montreal is putting their faith in Fajardo.
“Cody has solidified the first job,” said head coach Jason Maas last week. “That’s non-negotiable in our eyes.”
And then on Saturday we expect to see Trevor Harris make his Roughrider debut as the 2023 preseason schedule wraps up with a game in Winnipeg. Harris missed Saskatchewan’s win over the Lions on Saturday to be with his wife for the birth of the family’s third child. From his performance in camp, though, Riders fans are expecting Harris to hit the ground running in game action.
“Trevor is as good as we thought he would be and maybe even a little better,” said head coach Craig Dickenson at the team’s State of the Nation earlier this month. “He’s really something else. Super mature guy (who) understands football. You don’t have to tell him much; he’s been out there and done such a good job with game management.”
Tick tock…we are less than two weeks from the start of the regular season.