June 1, 2023

Players take their one shot in final preseason games


There are very few moments in life that actually line up with the key lyrics to Eminem’s Lose Yourself. This weekend’s final offering of preseason games provide that for a few dozen players that might be resting on the bubble of a CFL roster.

This is a perilous time of the year for those that are trying to prove their football-playing value to teams. Nearly everyone is surrounded by obstacles, whether you’re too inexperienced, or you’ve perhaps been around the game a little too long. For players fresh out of school, be it the NCAA route or U SPORTS programs, the last three weeks have been about testing yourself against the size, speed and power of the pro ranks. For many rookies, there’s also the added challenge of learning the nuances of the Canadian game.

As four teams set to take the stage between Thursday and Friday night to wrap up the preseason, here are a few things that I’ll be watching for, broken down by those famous lines from Eminem’s Oscar-winning song.

 QB Tracker: Breaking down preseason playing time
Ferguson: What to expect in the final week of preseason
 Sign up and watch preseason games on CFL Preseason Live
» Sign up and watch regular season games on CFL+ in the U.S. and internationally
» Buy Tickets: 2023 regular season tickets on sale now

Palms are sweaty 

The Ottawa REDBLACKS are looking for their next starting running back. As Postmedia’s Tim Baines points out, the battle for that starting gig has been a great one to watch this month. Head coach Bob Dyce knows what Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett can do, having seen them in uniform last season. Ante Litre, De’Montre Tuggle and Amlicar Polk are all doing what they can to work themselves into the run game conversation. Bennett will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Toronto Argonauts in Guelph, but the rest of the group will get a shot at pleading their respective cases.

Dyce was impressed with Tuggle, who had seven carries for 31 yards in the REDBLACKS’ first preseason game, a loss to Montreal last Friday.

“He has a great lower centre of gravity, he’s got a powerful punch when he’s in protection,” the coach told Baines. “He’s got great feet, whether he’s running or catching the ball, and he’s very decisive in what he does. When he makes his decision to get north, he gets north fast. We want to be a team that can move a pile and you need a back that’s going to drive it.”

Tuggle is the latest player to migrate to the CFL from Ohio University, which has given us the likes recently of Nathan Rourke, A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons.

Knees weak, arms heavy 

The Riders’ offensive line will be a major focus for fans this season (Riderville.com)

If we’re going to talk about knees and arms, it’s only appropriate to look to the offensive line, where the heavily-braced heavyweights of the game line up each week, with arms that need to be heavy in the unmovable sense and less so the prone to holding sense.

It’s still only preseason so performances should be taken with a necessary grain of salt, but it’s fair to want to keep your eyes on what the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback protection looks like on Friday. Trevor Harris is set to make his preseason debut in the Riders’ kelly green and while it wouldn’t be surprising to see him throw five or six passes and call it a night, much like Bo Levi Mitchell did this past weekend, the time he gets to make those passes might give us a small glimpse of what he could have in store for him this season.

The Riders have worked to overhaul their offensive line this year, knowing that they need to make a full departure from the group that surrendered a league-worst 77 sacks in 2022. Protecting Harris will be the first and most important task for the offence all season long; even in the preseason game he’ll suit up in.

While we’re talking trench play, let’s jump back to Ottawa, where Blessman Ta’ala is slated to start at defensive tackle for the REDBLACKS on Thursday night. There may be a learning curve here for the 2023 first overall Global pick, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does against the Argos’ offensive line. Ta’ala showed great strength at the CFL Combine presented by New Era back in March, winning the bench press with 29 reps and holding his own against National and Global talent in one-on-ones. The REDBLACKS quickly signed Ta’ala, inking him the same day they took him in the Global Draft.

Mom’s spaghetti 

Cody Fajardo heads into a show-and-prove season when he suits up for his preseason debut Friday (MontrealAlouettes.com)

We’ll file these three here since they all have the potential to make people feel a little queasy when the pressure’s at its highest.

Chad Kelly will get his first preseason action on Thursday night, after elbow tightness kept him out of last week’s game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Kelly, as well know, is taking over starting duties in the wake of McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s departure. With a trio of players behind him with less experience than the one CFL start he picked up last season (and one exceptional finish to the 109th Grey Cup, it should be noted), the Argos will need their promising but untested pivot to play at a high level out of the gate this year. His performance this week should be about soaking up the moment and setting a tone for the offence with him as its leader.

Cody Fajardo shouldn’t feel any jitters when he sees the field this week against the Tiger-Cats, but he heads into a season that will have a show-and-prove feel to it. He lost the starting job late in 2022 in Saskatchewan and the Riders’ stumbled their way through the year, missing the playoffs after a 4-1 start. Those aforementioned 77 sacks had something to do with that, but a strong, productive season in Montreal would go a long way to cementing that idea. It could be a shorter night for Fajardo, but he’ll want to make his time on the field count on Friday.

Finally, we’re close to some clarity on the kicking situation in Winnipeg. As Postmedia’s Ted Wyman wrote on Wednesday, the Bombers’ off-season signing of Sergio Castillo has him as the team’s primary kicker. The punting job is a battle between National Marc Liegghio, who handled all kicking/punting duties last year, and newcomer Globals Jamieson Sheahan and Karl Schmitz. All three will see action on Friday against the Riders.

Last year’s Grey Cup provided the perfect example of just how high the stakes can get in the kicking game and how the Bombers were impacted by it. A warm, summer-like atmosphere in June is a far cry from the chilly, win-or-go-home atmosphere of a Grey Cup game, but those punters — and a number of players across the league — just might feel that kind of personal pressure when they take the field this week.

The comment system on this website is now powered by the CFL.ca Forums. We'd love for you to be part of the conversation; click the Start Discussion button below to register an account and join the community!