Adams states his case for backup QB role (& 11 other thoughts on beating the Argos)

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

After an off-season of roster turnover, weeks of tense CBA negotiations, and a couple of days of wondering whether the game would even be played, a new-look Ottawa Redblacks squad took the field at TD Place for their first preseason game on Friday, beating the visiting Toronto Argonauts by a score of 23-17.

The ten-point, fourth-quarter rally to earn the win was nice, but at the end of the day, the only thing that truly matters in the preseason is getting tape on guys competing for spots and avoiding disastrous injuries. At the final whistle, the Redblacks were fortunate to be able to check off both boxes.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was brought in to provide the kind of stable veteran presence that Ottawa has lacked since Trevor Harris left town in the 2019 offseason. And although it was only three series in an exhibition game, it’s clear the 33-year-old is comfortable. Masoli led one scoring drive — in which he completed five consecutive passes for 60 yards and a touchdown — and spread the ball around well, hitting four different receivers and frequently used his legs to extend plays when the pocket collapsed.

In the preseason, a good outing for a quarterback means they ended the night with a high completion percentage — Masoli’s was 72% — and led scoring drives — he did.

The chemistry he showed with Jaelon Acklin was to be expected, but what caught my eye was Masoli’s rapport with second-year pro Ryan Davis.

2) With a full offseason and another training camp under his belt, second-year quarterback Caleb Evans looked decent under centre, but his thunder was stolen by another.

In my training camp preview I wrote that, barring disaster, the backup quarterback role was Evans’. What I failed to take into account is that one of the other new quarterbacks in camp might state their case so strongly that it couldn’t be ignored. Enter Tyrie Adams.

Yes, it was just over a quarter of play, and yes, his first pass was a late throw that resulted in a pick-six.

But once he settled in, Adams overcame a ten-point deficit by making quick reads, on-target throws, and using his legs when necessary to keep drives alive.

This isn’t to say he’s suddenly leapfrogged Evans on the depth chart, but what he has done is turn it into a real competition.

Evans had a couple of nice throws and used his legs well to buy time when flushed from the pocket. In fact, on one play in the second quarter, he scrambled to his left, ducked a defender, spun out of a sack and threw against his body to the wide side of the field for a completion.

He also showed significant development with his cadence, using his voice to twice draw Toronto offside.  The only throw he’ll really want back was one into heavy coverage that he stared down.

The second-year pivot finished the night by going 9-of-17 for 116 yards and an interception, along with four rushes for 11 yards. None of the seven drives he led resulted in points.

Adams finished the night by going 6-of-9 for 68 yards with a touchdown and interception, along with three rushes for 15 yards and a touchdown. Two of the four drives he led resulted in scores.

With both likely to receive significant playing time next week against Montreal, how well each performs will go a long way towards deciding who ends up holding a clipboard and carrying out short-yardage duties in the regular season, and who winds up on the practice squad.

3) With running back William Powell out, the Redblacks used a full stable of ball carriers against the Argos. Of the four backs who received carries, the most impressive by far was former Gee-Gees product, Jackson Bennett.

The Canadian didn’t get his first carry until the fourth quarter, but he had the most explosive run of the game and finished the night with an 8.9 yards per carry average, turning seven touches into 62 yards. His ability to run through contact and lower his shoulder to finish runs was impressive.

Bennett’s performance should come as no surprise to anyone who has caught any of training camp, as per multiple sources he’s been making the same kind of plays in practice all week.

Devonte Williams also showed nice burst, turning his five carries into 27 yards. Byron Marshall and Brendan Gillanders averaged 1.4 yards and -1.7 yards per carry respectively, but that’s less an indictment of their abilities and more a reflection of some poor blocking by the offensive linemen they shared the field with.

Overall, what the game demonstrated is that the more time Powell misses — the 34-year-old has participated sparing in camp to this point — the more opportunities other players are grabbing to show they can do his job.

4) The last time the Redblacks played a football game, from left to right their offensive line featured Mark Korte, Jakub Szott, Andrew Pickett, Jaylen Guthrie and Ketel Asse. None of those five were on the field when Ottawa took its opening snap against the Argos.

Instead, Ucambre Williams was at left tackle, Hunter Steward at left guard, Darius Ciraco at centre, Jacob Ruby at right guard and Justice Powers at right tackle. Four of the five mentioned were big-name free agent acquisitions. Interestingly, Powers got the nod despite only signing with the team on May 11.

As a whole, the group was solid, although there were some individual breakdowns that quarterback mobility overcame. One area the starting group will need to improve upon is the run game, as they struggled to open lanes early on.

5) Ottawa has a logjam of veterans at the receiver position and I’m not sure how much last night’s game did to help sort things out. The players expected to earn starting roles had strong showings. Acklin turned five targets into four catches and a touchdown. R.J. Harris also had four catches and a touchdown.

Ryan Davis looked good too, making three catches for 45 yards.

In terms of rookies, Justin Hardy made three catches for 39 yards and 2022 third-round pick Keaton Bruggeling made a pair of catches for 22 yards.

No other receiver had more than one reception.

6) Siaosi Mariner hauled in a 20-yard pass from Masoli in the first quarter but what my brain struggled to comprehend was that it wasn’t Greg Ellingson wearing #82. Ellingson hasn’t played a down for the Redblacks since the 2018 Grey Cup but it’s still going to take many in R-Nation a long time to disassociate someone making plays in that number from him.

7) Mike Benevides’ defence was fired up from the get-go, likely itching for the chance to finally hit someone other than a teammate. As a whole, the unit limited Toronto to just 15 first downs and 228 yards of net offence.

Middle linebacker Avery Williams showed that although it might be a new year, he’s still the same guy who R-Nation has grown accustomed to always seeing around the ball.

Iowa State product Jhaustin Thomas stood out for all the right reasons. The defensive lineman made three tackles, was credited with one sack, and frequently pressured the quarterback. Bryce Carter also did a nice job collapsing the pocket a few times.

Terrance Smith had a team-high five tackles from his weak-side linebacker position.

If he’d had a bit better luck, safety Ty Cranston could have finished the game with a pair of interceptions, as two passes from Argos’ quarterbacks bounced off his hands.

Defensive lineman Deshawn Stevens — Ottawa’s 2021 first-round pick — was held off the score sheet.

8) It might have only been preseason, but Bob Dyce’s special teams unit was in mid-season form.

The kick coverage was stellar, with Toronto’s longest punt return of the night going for merely eight yards. Ottawa also avoided being flagged for no-yards, which now always carries a 15-yard penalty.

A number of players made hard special teams tackles — such as Daniel Valente and Jordan Beaulieu — but it was Adam Auclair who really stood out. The sixth overall pick of the 2020 draft had a pair of big sticks and forced a fumble.

Given the Redblacks’ Canadian depth, those distinguishing themselves by making plays on special teams will have a much better shot at making the final roster.

9) With Richie Leone given the night off from punting duties, Global player Jose Maltos had an opportunity to do his thing. He punted nine times for an average field position flip of 40.3 yards. Not quite up to the high bar set by Leone, but a solid performance nevertheless.

Lewis Ward didn’t attempt a field goal but it was nice to see him get his annual miss out of his system early when he pushed the first convert he attempted wide.

In terms of the return game, five different players fielded kicks. The longest return of the night belonged to Terry Williams, who posted a 24-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

10) Kind of odd that the Redblacks chose to wear their white road uniforms at home, but given how sharp they look I’m not complaining.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

It was a small crowd at TD Place — with no official attendance announced — but that was to be expected given the uncertainty over whether the game would actually take place, the fact that thousands in Ottawa are still without power following last week’s storm and the rainy forecast.

At least those who chose to attend were treated to an exciting finish, something that’s been lacking at Lansdowne in recent years.

11) The entertaining win will be appreciated by fans, players and the coaching staff but at the end of the day, the game was an excellent opportunity for coaches to evaluate players in a real game situation. It’s one thing to be a camp star, it’s another to make plays against an opponent desperate to beat you in order to secure their own job.

When head coach Paul LaPolice and his staff break down the film, there will be lots to like and lots to learn from. Some of the dozens of new faces who made their Ottawa debut helped their case for a roster spot, others left meat on the bone.

For those who underwhelmed, their next chance to make a positive impression and state their case to be a member of the team will come on Friday night in Montreal.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).