May 30, 2023

Ferguson: What to expect in the final week of preseason

As I wrote last week, the CFL Preseason is a funny puzzle to deconstruct. It’s a plethora of bodies, potential, and hope thrown into a blender over three weeks, which forces decision makers to quickly decide who must stay and who must move on to their next opportunity.

In the first preseason game, it’s all about making a statement. Camp is relatively young and fresh faced players doing anything they can to make coaches remember their name for all the right reasons. The transition to the second and final preseason game is a different monster altogether.

In the first game, if you make a mistake here or there, your camp tape or other plays might be good enough to overcome an on-field error. The only thing more powerful than a first impression is a final one, and this weekend’s games are the final chance for many to piece together effort and execution to reach their pro football dreams in Canada.

While these battles are happening with fluctuating rosters and substitution patterns in game, there is also the somewhat awkward tension of projected starters to get themselves ‘game ready’ for Week 1.

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After this weekend, every snap is microanalyzed, picked apart for the purpose of finding a better way forward. If a starter makes a mistake this week they will be disappointed, but there are rarely any real consequences aside from a wake up call. 

For me, the most intriguing example of a projected starter is a player with arguably the most intriguing situation of any around the entire CFL this June: Toronto Argonauts starting quarterback Chad Kelly.

Kelly has assumed the starting spot from McLeod Bethel-Thompson this off-season and led those beautiful blue uniforms into enemy territory in the first preseason matchup before his day was cautiously cut short with elbow tightness. It was a precautionary measure in a meaningless game (if that ever exists between Hamilton and Toronto) to prevent any lingering, season-long concerns.

Now Kelly comes home to the big smoke in a dress rehearsal at Alumni Stadium in Guelph against Ottawa. What makes this such a sports psychology Rubik’s cube isn’t just Kelly’s upgraded role on the roster, or that he’s playing in a home game, but that he won’t get another chance to face real pressure until Week 2 since the Argonauts have a Week 1 bye.

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie says he just wants to see Kelly get a rhythm, in and out of the huddle, and Kelly himself believes just completing passes is the key, but on June 18 Hamilton comes to Toronto with Bo Levi Mitchell’s first QEW rivalry game as the Argonauts will raise their 2022 Grey Cup banner. That championship was won in large part by Kelly’s late-game heroics. All of it makes for rare and engaging preseason storylines for fans to sink their teeth into while watching on CFL Preseason Live.

Around the rest of this weekend’s slate, the Tiger-Cats have some questions to answer in their secondary while the BC Lions will surely get starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. some quality live reps before debuting the new-look Lions on the road in Calgary opening night.

Cody Fajardo is getting set for his first season in Montreal and could see some preseason action this weekend (

Zach Collaros really doesn’t need any preseason action, but with a home game against the rival Riders I wonder how many starters will take the field to tempt back the Bombers faithful when they host Bo Levi and the Ticats Week 1.

Meanwhile the team with perhaps the most to prove, not just to fans but themselves, are the Montreal Alouettes, who will put Jason Maas’ new-look roster to the test against Hamilton at home. Quarterback Cody Fajardo will get his first chance to make a good impression on the Montreal fans before hosting Ottawa Week 1. 

It might just be preseason but in every building across the CFL this week there is tension building. Who will make the roster, who will start Week 1 and perhaps most importantly, who will kick off the season with confidence and momentum and not just false bravado from training camp garnered by beating up on your own team?

For Kelly, Fajardo, Adams Jr. and a plethora of backup quarterbacks looking for work, this week will set the tone for much more ahead in 2023, and it’s all available for you to watch in real time.

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