Dru Brown shines in Winnipeg’s preseason loss to Elks (& 14 other thoughts)

Photo: Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Photo edit: 3DownNation.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Edmonton Elks by a score of 30-20 in preseason action at IG Field on Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 20,518. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Dru and Gold

Dru Brown started the game for Winnipeg and had an excellent night, completing 10-of-13 pass attempts for 108 yards and one touchdown in two quarters of work. He also carried the ball three times for seven yards and a score.

The 25-year-old used his legs to avoid pressure and consistently delivered accurate passes. Two of his three incompletions came on balls he threw away, which shows maturity. When facing pressure, young quarterbacks can be prone to forcing throws into dangerous places. His remaining incompletion came on a pass that was dropped by Nic Demski.

Brown spread the ball around well, connecting with four different receivers in the first quarter alone. He also showed some toughness late in the frame when he absorbed a big hit from Scott Hutter and remained in the game to throw a two-yard touchdown strike to Dalton Schoen on the following play.

“He did drive the team down and manufacture points, which is what you want to see,” head coach Mike O’Shea told CJOB after the game.

Zach Collaros is firmly entrenched as Winnipeg’s starting quarterback but the club has been without a proven backup since Chris Streveler departed for the NFL. Brown spent most of last season on the practice roster — Sean McGuire, who retired in February, was the backup in 2021 — and dressed for only two games.

It’s a small sample size, of course, but it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Brown serving as Winnipeg’s backup this season.

South Dakota

Dakota Prukop has been in the CFL since 2017 with Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton but struggled in his first action with Winnipeg. He completed five-of-14 pass attempts for 81 yards and two interceptions, both of which came in the fourth quarter.

The 28-year-old runs very well — he scored an eight-yard touchdown late in the first half — but didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. His first interception came on a deep ball he under-threw to Lucky Jackson, while the second happened as he was taking a hit from Edmonton’s pass rush.

Brown and Prukop each spent one quarter playing with the starters on offence, which O’Shea indicated was to help them “process the game.” Prukop will need to show that he can process things more effectively next week.

Hash marks

The CFL narrowed its hash marks by almost 50 percent this winter with the hope of generating more offence. Passes to the wide side of the field have become shorter, while the short side of the field now has more room for receivers to work.

It’s unclear if the new hash marks were much of a factor in Friday night’s game, but both offences clicked very well by preseason standards. The teams combined for 747 offensive yards and 50 points, which is the type of offensive production the league wants to see.

The bad news for Winnipeg? 455 of those yards — 60.9 percent — were generated by Edmonton.

Ford vs. Ford

Twin brothers Tre and Tyrell Ford were two of the biggest names in this year’s CFL draft and it didn’t take long for them to play against one another at the professional level.

Tre was selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft by Edmonton, becoming the first quarterback taken in the first round of the CFL draft since 1980. Tyrell was selected five picks later by Winnipeg and signed with the team after attending rookie mini-camp with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tre got into the game late in the first and third quarters, completing one pass for 17 yards and rushing five times for 47 yards. Tyrell played mostly in the fourth quarter, recording four total tackles.

The pair played together at the University of Waterloo and had never competed against one another at any level of tackle football before Friday night. Given that both have bright futures and play in the same division, they should go toe-to-toe many more times over the coming years.

Laying the boom

Malcolm Thompson put a great hit on Charles Nelson early in the third quarter when he moved up from his safety spot to dislodge the football. He made another excellent play near the end of the quarter when he timed his blitz perfectly to nail running back Christian Saulsberry for a four-yard loss.

Brandon Alexander is expected to miss significant time as he recovers from off-season knee surgery, so it’s nice to see Winnipeg has some Canadian depth at safety. Nick Hallett started the game and made one tackle.

Schoen shines

I’ve been lucky enough to watch several future stars play in their first CFL preseason games, including Casey Printers, Duke Williams, and Chris Streveler. There weren’t any newcomers who dominated on Friday night but I liked what I saw from receiver Dalton Schoen.

If I had to compare Schoen to a recent CFL player, it’d probably be Luke Tasker. He’s not the biggest or the fastest slotback, but he caught all four passes thrown his way and was open virtually every time I looked for him. He’s generated some buzz in training camp and could be a legitimate candidate to earn a starting job.

August Rush

Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine both ran the ball well against Edmonton but it was Augustine who edged out Oliveira’s yards-per-rush average by a tally of 9.0 to 6.3.

Winnipeg has traditionally been a one-back team, but they need to find a way to keep both ball carriers involved in the offence this season. They’re both too good to be left on the bench for long and rotating them should help them stay fresh and healthy over the course of an eighteen-game regular season.

Depth chart delusion

Winnipeg did not issue a depth chart before Friday’s preseason game, instead providing a game-day roster listing players by position in numerical order. The club has done this for several years during the preseason and, frankly, it’s silly.

The purpose of a depth chart is to allow fans and members of the media to anticipate who will start the game and who will fill their respective depth roles. Preseason games are different than regular-season games, sure, but every other team in the league issued a proper depth chart this weekend. Winnipeg should do the same.

It’s also unclear what the team hopes to gain by not providing a traditional depth chart. The players all know who is starting and how they’ll be used throughout the contest and the game doesn’t count in the standings. Why the lack of transparency?

For the record, here are the 24 players who started for Winnipeg.

Quarterback — Dru Brown

Running back — Brady Oliveira

Receiver — WR Rasheed Bailey, SB Nic Demski, SB Dalton Schoen, SB Janarion Grant, WR Drew Wolitarsky

Offensive line — LT Stanley Bryant, LG Geoff Gray, C Michael Couture, RG Tomoya Machino, RT Jermarcus Hardrick

Defensive line — DE Cedric Wilcots, DT Jake Thomas, DT Ricky Walker, DE Willie Jefferson

Linebackers — WLB Les Maruo, MLB Adam Bighill, SAM Donald Rutledge Jr.

Defensive back — CB Winston Rose, HB Deatrick Nichols, S Nick Hallett, HB Nick Taylor, CB Tyquwan Glass

It should also be noted that Edmonton’s depth chart included a key inaccuracy as Nick Arbuckle — not Taylor Cornelius — started the game under centre.

En ‘guard’

Liam Dobson, Winnipeg’s first-round pick in the 2021 CFL Draft, played extensively at left guard and looked great doing it. He’ll likely play more snaps in the club’s next preseason game and it will be interesting to see how he does. Geoff Gray appears to have the inside track to the starting job, but I can’t see Dobson being a backup for long. He’s too good.

Hakuna Mourtada

Ali Mourtada made his first convert attempt but hit the upright on his second attempt, causing the ball to fall dead. The miss generated an audible response from the crowd, which has clearly not forgotten the issues he faced in 2021. He did not attempt a field goal against Edmonton, though he punted three times for an average of 37.7 yards.

Unanswered question

Last week I posed five questions facing the Blue Bombers in training camp and it appears one of them will go unanswered.

Jalen Saunders was looking to get his career back on track after three years away from the game due to a torn ACL, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a serious car accident. We’ll never know if the 29-year-old would have made an impact with the Blue Bombers as he was released on Wednesday after being the subject of sexual assault allegations.

Football takes a backseat when such serious legal allegations arise, but I think it’s worth noting that Saunders did not receive a signing bonus when he joined the club last month. As such, he was not paid during his brief tenure with Winnipeg and the club’s salary cap will remain unaffected by releasing him.

Mad scientist

Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones is considered a bit of a mad scientist in CFL circles because of how often he moves players to new positions (among other reasons). Below is a list of position changes he’s already made this year.

Mike Beaudry has been moved from quarterback to fullback, Jean-Paul Cimankinda from running back to middle linebacker, Cole Nelson from defensive tackle to offensive guard, J-Min Pelley from defensive tackle to offensive guard, Malik Tyne from linebacker to defensive end, Jordan Reaves from defensive end to weak-side linebacker, and Shaydon Philip from safety to weak-side linebacker.

Some of the players listed above played multiple positions — I noticed Pelley taking reps at defensive tackle, for one — but it’s still wild that so many players have been moved.

It’s also worth noting that Duron Carter — the former all-star receiver Jones will deploy at defensive back — did not dress for Friday’s preseason game. Jones has previously indicated that Carter could start at safety.

Personable prez

Edmonton Elks’ president and CEO Victor Cui was in the stands at IG Field posting content to his TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter pages. This is the type of leadership, accessibility, and positivity the CFL needs from its higher-ups. Well done, Mr. Cui.

Taylor-made

Derek Taylor called his first game as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as the replacement for Bob Irving, who retired after 47 years on the job. Taylor is great at what he does and I hope he knows that we’re all expecting him to be the voice of the team for the next 47 years. If my math is correct, he’ll be eligible to retire in 2069.

For anyone wondering what Irving is up to these days, he was in the press box during Friday’s game and seems to be loving life. It was great to hear his voice, even if it was in person instead of on the radio.

More to come

I plan on writing my post-game thoughts and analysis after every Blue Bombers game this season as I’ve done for the past seven seasons.

After many years of living west of Winnipeg, my wife and I recently purchased a home in Crescentwood and get possession next month. If you see me walking my dog around the neighbourhood, please feel free to say hello.

Winnipeg’s second and final preseason game is scheduled for Tuesday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. CT against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and will be televised on TSN.