There is nothing like starting the preseason with an adventure, which is exactly what unfolded in Calgary on Monday to kick-off the 2023 CFL preseason schedule.
Rookies stood out, plays broke down, touchdowns were scored, and we got the same number of rouges as game delays. It was a roller coaster for all involved that ended in familiar fashion as the Edmonton Elks lost to the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 29-24 at McMahon Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Calgary enjoyed perfect spring weather on Sunday as the sun was out with just a few clouds and a light breeze. By Monday morning, however, the smoke from the ongoing Alberta wildfires rolled back in and the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) was at ten, well over the CFL’s health and safety limit of seven.
It wasn’t until 11:15 a.m. local time, less than three hours before the game was scheduled to begin, that the league announced the game would be postponed by 30 minutes. By the time teams took to the field, the smoke had mostly cleared and the sun was out.
If only that was the end of the game’s delays.
As halftime was wrapped up, a thunderstorm rolled in and paused the game for another hour. Elks fans would have probably been fine with the game being called early as their team held a slim 11-10 lead at the time. When the game was able to resume, approximately 2,500 fans remained to watch depth players more than double the scoring. CFL fans are a hearty bunch.
It starts up front
The only veteran group that made the trip to Calgary was Edmonton’s offensive line. The starting five did reasonably well against the Stampeders’ starting defensive line, only giving up one sack near the end of the first half.
Josiah St. John, who Chris Jones selected with the first overall pick in the 2016 CFL Draft while in Saskatchewan, started at right tackle and didn’t look out of place. Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 CFL draft, looks to have taken the step needed to secure a starting spot at guard.
In the second half, Theren Churchill, who was acquired from Toronto on the first day of training camp, and third-round draft pick Phillip Grohovac played well at the guard positions. Even if the Elks start four Canadians along the offensive line, which is one more than a year ago, it’s clear they have more than enough depth to get through the season.
The line gave starting quarterback Kai Locksley time in the pocket and opened some holes for rookie running back Shannon Brooks. Brooks finished the game with 11 carries for 72 yards and ran over defenders as much as he ran around them. The University of Minnesota product looks to be the front-runner to earn the backup role behind starter Kevin Brown.
Fighting for third
The Elks brought three quarterbacks to Calgary, including Locksley, Jarret Doege, and Khalil Tate. Locksley played the first and fourth quarters with Doege, the younger brother of former Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Seth Doege, playing the second, and Tate playing the third.
Locksley and Doege both threw touchdown passes and had similar passing numbers with 158 yards and 136 yards, respectively, though Doege had only half the playing time. Doege’s 45-yard touchdown pass was arguably the best throw of the day.
The Elks’ receiving corps will be a hard one to crack this year with Eugene Lewis, Dillon Mitchell, Steven Dunbar Jr., Kyran Moore, and Manny Arceneaux all expected to be in the starting lineup, though Maurice Ffrench made a great case to stick around.
The rookie out of Pittsburgh was on the receiving end of the Doege’s long touchdown pass and finished the game with nine receptions for 119 yards. Rafael Leonard, who was cut and signed back this week, had some decent catches but didn’t appear consistent in his route running.
Gavin Cobb, a former fourth-round pick who missed all of last year due to injury, caught all three passes that came his way including a touchdown pass pass from Locksley late in the game. The University of Manitoba product is also competing for a starting role in the receiving corps, though it remains unclear if the club will start a Canadian target.
Sammie Coates, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, was involved early but faded as the game progressed. He looked to be in the right spots on offence and generated separation from defenders over the middle.
The competition will be fierce with this group, which should have a number of starters in action for their second and final preseason game.
Chris Jones likes to keep a healthy rotation on defence, which remained very much the case on Monday.
At six-foot-one and 375 pounds, it is hard not to notice Canadian newcomer Olivier Charles-Pierre at defensive tackle. Marcus Willoughby, who had brief stints with the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, made a number of tackles and generated penetration into the backfield. The most noticeable linebacker was Mark McLaurin, who dressed for two games with the Elks last season.
Jake Taylor, the club’s territorial draft pick out of the University of Alberta, had a good day at safety and was quick to the ball. Marloshawn Franklin Jr. showed lots of speed in a number of secondary positions and came up with the club’s only interception.
The group fared well, especially with the lack of experience, until the fourth quarter when Calgary got their running game going. Jake Maier and Tommy Stevens, Calgary’s two top quarterbacks, managed only two completions over the course of the entire first half.
Dean Faithfull, the second overall pick in this year’s Global draft, went three-for-four on field goals with a miss from 34 yards out. He looks to be the regular Global player on the roster, especially given the release of proven veteran Sergio Castillo.
Edmonton’s return game continues to need work as CJ Sims and Gavin Cobb generated little to no production. They will both need another look in the next preseason game.
The next game for the Elks comes this Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.