Ticats at Bombers Game Preview

Zach CollarosHas it been 11 days already?

It seems like only yesterday that the Ticats opened the preseason with a resounding 37-10 win over the Ottawa RedBlacks at Tim Hortons Field, yet here we are with the Ticats set to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in preseason action. It is the final tuneup for the Tabbies before they kick off the regular season in Calgary against the Stampeders in one week’s time.

With that in mind, let us take a look at some of the things we should be watching for — or more accurately, listening for since the game will not be televised or live streamed — in tonight’s matchup.

1. Jeremiah Masoli playing for his career

Jeff Mathews all but locked up the No. 2 quarterback spot with his superlative performance in the first preseason game. Mathews did not make the trip to Winnipeg with the team, so barring something truly amazing, he will be the primary backup behind Zach Collaros to start the season. That leaves two players, Jeremiah Masoli and Jacory Harris, battling for the final quarterback spot. Harris played well in the first preseason game, but not well enough that he couldn’t be beat out for the No. 3 spot by Masoli. The former Oregon Duck and Ole Miss Rebel will need to have a very good game against Winnipeg if he hopes to retain his roster spot and secure the position of No. 3 pivot. Masoli is essentially playing for his career, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure associated with his job pretty much being on the line.

2. Zach Collaros playing, period

Collaros was held out of the Ottawa game so the team could get a look at Mathews and Harris, so tonight’s contest will be the first time Collaros will suit up since last season’s Grey Cup. The former Bearcat enters his second season in Tommy Condell’s offense, so No. 4 should be more comfortable in the complex system the Ticats offensive coordinator likes to run. That comfortability should allow for Collaros to put up better numbers in 2015, and tonight could showcase some of what we can expect this season.

3. How the team’s projected starters look

A number of key starters were held out of the game against Ottawa, and while some will be held out of tonight’s game against the Blue Bombers — Simoni Lawrence, Taylor Reed, Ted Laurent and Craig Butler are just a few who did not make the trip west — some players who did not see the field against the RedBlacks will be in uniform tonight. Andy Fantuz, Eric Norwood, Erik Harris and Brandon Banks will all see some time on the field against Winnipeg. This will give these players a chance to knock some of the rust off and get ready for the season opener in seven days against Calgary, while also giving fans a chance to see how they will perform come the regular season.

4. Who steps up due to injury

One of the most talked about stories of training camp and preseason has been the slew of injuries the Ticats have dealt with over the last two weeks. In the absence of players like Brian Bulcke, Mossis Madu, Luke Tasker and C.J. Gable, other players will have to step up. Guys like Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Frédéric Plesius and Matt Coates, who is coming off a fairly impressive performance against the RedBlacks, will get the chance to prove they deserve more field time. A couple of first-year running backs, Ray Holley and Michael Ford, will get a chance to tote the rock with the injuries to Gable, Madu and Nic Grigsby. The group of defensive backs vying for spots in a wide-open secondary will all get a chance to show what they can do to a coaching staff that still has yet to settle on a starting five, while backup safety Mike Daly, who like Coates had a terrific game against Ottawa, will have another opportunity to show that he can be a large contributor on defense in his third season. Plenty of jobs are still on the line and tonight’s game is the last time these players will get to impress the coaches before cut-down day on Saturday.

5. Winnipeg’s revamped offensive line

One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Winnipeg’s spending spree during free agency, and nowhere did they spend more than on their beleaguered offensive line. Last year, Drew Willy was sacked over 70 times, so finding a way to protect their franchise quarterback was job No. 1 for the Bombers this winter. They went out and grabbed Marc Dile from Hamilton and two-time league all-star Stanley Bryant from Calgary in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of last season. They then spent the second pick in the draft on massive University of Calgary offensive lineman Suhk Chungh. With Hamilton only playing one of their projected Week 1 starters tonight, we will find out if Winnipeg’s investment was a good one or if the line will once again be a weak spot for the Bombers in 2015. If the team’s latest additions cannot handle a defensive line that is mostly made up of second-unit players, Drew Willy could find himself flat on his back a lot again this season.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.