The Montreal Alouettes held their annual team scrimmage on the first Saturday of training camp. This was a great opportunity for the players on the roster to show off their skills in front of the coaches before the first preseason game, which is scheduled for next Thursday morning in Toronto.
Here are some things that jumped out:
• Antonio Pipkin took the majority of the first-team reps with Jeff Mathews getting a few as well. As much as I expect Pipkin to be the starting quarterback in the first week of the season, head coach Mike Sherman continues to insist that the team has an open mind about who will be their go-to pivot in Week 1.
“I think all four quarterbacks have had some really good plays that they’ve made. There’s also plays that they wish they could have back,” Sherman told reporters after the scrimmage. “They’re competing every day. It’s going to be a battle until the end. This upcoming preseason game will be important for all of four of those quarterbacks to showcase that they’re the quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes this season.”
Since I’ve seen a decent chunk of training camp, I’ll give you my own starting quarterback odds for the Als. As of right now, I’d say Pipkin has a 70 per cent chance of starting, Mathews is at 20 per cent, while Matthew Shiltz and Vernon Adams have a seven and three per cent chance of starting against Edmonton in Week 1. Yes, I made these numbers up myself!
• Starting left tackle Tony Washington strained his hip midway through Saturday’s scrimmage. Sherman mentioned that Washington suffered the same injury earlier in camp and that he expected him to miss a couple of days. Whether or not he plays in the preseason opener remains to be seen.
• As if losing Washington wasn’t enough, the offensive line came into this scrimmage banged up. Projected starting right tackle Tyler Johnstone hasn’t practiced since Thursday. He’s coming off off-season knee surgery and he’s feeling a little sore, per Sherman. The Als head coach added that Johnstone “probably could have gone today,” but given his injury history they’re opting to remain cautious with him.
• Sticking with the big boys up front, free-agent signing Spencer Wilson was also absent today because of a hand injury. The team isn’t sure how serious the injury is yet as they’re waiting for his x-rays to come back. This is a group that absolutely needs to stay healthy if the Als are going to move the ball consistently this season. The health of the offensive line is something to keep an eye on going forward.
• Rookie receiver Jake Wieneke has been part of the starting group of receivers since the beginning of training camp. The 24-year-old is listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. During his time at South Dakota State, no player in Missouri Valley Conference history had more career receptions (288) or yards (5,157). In fact, no other player in conference history recorded more than 4,000 receiving yards.
“The thing about Jake, is that he comes from a great program. I have a lot of respect for the coaches at South Dakota State,” Sherman said. “He’s very well coached coming in here. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he doesn’t need to be because he’s a great technician. He’s a skill guy, runs excellent routes, really knows how to work a defensive back to create space and to get open. When you watch him out there, he looks like an eight-year veteran sometimes. He brings some little nuances to his game that even experienced players don’t bring. He’s been fairly impressive so far and he’s caught every ball we’ve thrown him.”
• Speaking of receivers, I’m really intrigued by Canadian Malcolm Carter. He’s taken some snaps with the first-team offence this week and if he can find a way to contribute on special teams, he’ll have a shot at sticking on the active roster. Carter has tremendous size as he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 192 pounds. Late in Saturday’s scrimmage, he caught a jump ball from Canadian quarterback Chris Merchant in the end zone. Merchant went right back to him on the two-point convert. Can he become a go-to red-zone target for the Als in 2019?
• Prized free-agent signing DeVier Posey had an ugly drop during the scrimmage, but he made up for it with a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab on a ball thrown by Mathews. Posey is one of the few receivers on the team that has a good amount of speed.
• There were a few other receivers that stood out on Saturday. Former Auburn receiver Quan Bray made a great diving catch on a ball thrown by Vernon Adams. Dalton Ponchilla seemed to have some really nice chemistry with Mathews. Canadian receiver Chris Osei-Kusi made a nice catch up the left sideline on a pass thrown by Merchant.
• John Bowman has been eased into training camp slowly. He missed the first few days of camp but was seen jogging with Canadian running back Ryder Stone after the scrimmage. Bowman got some extra time off because he was one of the CFLPA representative negotiating the new CBA in Toronto late last week.
• In Bowman’s absence, Canadian sophomore Bo Banner has played a lot of snaps with the first-team defence. The 23-year-old suited up in 16 games with the Als during rookie season. The Als drafted Banner with the first pick in the third round of the 2018 CFL Draft. Veteran Gabriel Knapton is serving as the other starting defensive end right now.
• Newly signed defensive back Ciante Evans still isn’t with the team. Sherman mentioned that the 26-year-old will be taking his physical soon. They expect him to join camp sometime in the next two days.