Preseason preview: eight rookies to watch in Bombers vs. Elks

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

The CFL preseason is a time of renewal and opportunity. Hundreds of new faces arrive in Canadian training camps eager to make their mark, battling it out for a handful of open jobs. For most, the stay will be brief. For others, it will be their first step toward a prosperous career.

With all preseason games now available to stream live, determining which unfamiliar names actually merit close attention is a daunting task for fans. As always, 3DownNation will have you covered with a cheat sheet of first-time CFL players to watch ahead of each exhibition contest.

On Saturday afternoon, the Blue Bombers will travel to Commonwealth Stadium to take on the Elks. Edmonton will become the first team to finish their preseason schedule and are finally cracking out the vets, while Winnipeg is also expected to field an experienced lineup. Here are eight rookies that I’ll be watching.

*denotes National player/**denotes Global player

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Photo courtesy: Yvonne Landis/Colgate Athletics

#38 Abu Daramy-Swaray, DB, Colgate University

Something of a Cinderella story, Daramy-Swaray was completely overlooked during his draft year in 2020 despite being a two-time All-American with the Raiders. The five-foot-10, 190-pound corner took the road less travelled by joining the Potsdam Royals of the German Football League and became the rare player to sign an NFL contract directly from Europe. Now with the Bombers, he’s shown some impressive ball skills in practice and could be the latest in a long line of diamond-in-the-rough defensive backs discovered by that scouting staff.

Photo courtesy: Carson-Newman Athletics

#79 Braxton Westfield, REC, Carson-Newman University

At six-foot-four and 205 pounds with 34-inch arms, Westfield is a matchup nightmare on the outside. He was a touchdown machine for Division II Carson-Newman, posting 21 scores in 31 career games, but was more than a contested catch specialist, doing most of his work after the catch. The native of Simpsonville, S.C. is cut from the same cloth as burgeoning second-year player Carlton Agudosi but is almost a tenth of a second faster with an official forty-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds.

Photo courtesy: University of Regina Athletics

#98 Anthony Bennett, DE, University of Regina*

After selecting Regina’s pass-rushing specialist with the eighth overall pick in the 2023 CFL Draft, the Bombers are looking for immediate results from their 26-year-old rookie. Bennett has already established himself as something of a media darling due to his outgoing personality but he’ll need to prove his college production wasn’t a result of his extra physical maturity and that his smaller frame can stand up to the physicality of CFL offensive linemen. A strong preseason could make even his harshest skeptics into believers.

Photo courtesy: Paul Hokanson/

#48 Damian Jackson, LS/FB/DE, University at Buffalo

You are more likely to find a unicorn than an American long snapper or fullback in the CFL, but Jackson is expected to see time at both positions on Saturday as well as defensive end. The 30-year-old rookie walked on at Nebraska after spending four years as a member of the Navy SEALS, having never played football before. The six-foot-two, 263-pound lineman later transferred to Buffalo for a starting opportunity and has made the most of his unexpected pro football shot by forcing his way onto all three phases of the game. He’ll be in tough to make the roster but has the type of maturity and character that could steal Mike O’Shea’s heart.

Edmonton Elks

Photo courtesy: Purdue Athletics

#25 Antonio Mitchell II, DB, Purdue University

The Elks still have question marks in the secondary and this week’s start at field cornerback will go to a player who hasn’t played football since high school. Mitchell was a track star in college at Arizona State and Purdue and has plenty of speed to burn. That’s enough for Chris Jones to take a wild stab at converting the five-foot-nine, 190-pounder after he showed some flashes in the first preseason game.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

#88 Maurice Ffrench, REC, University of Pittsburgh

Ffrench was the star of the CFL’s preseason opener, hauling in ten passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, though the performance was undercut by a critical drop late in the game. The former Pitt star should see far less action in this one with starters returning to the lineup but a few more memorable plays will be critical if he wants to stick around in a loaded position group. His versatility will help, as he saw significant snaps on offence, defence and special teams in college — be still Chris Jones’ beating heart.

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Stacy Bengs

#22 Shannon Brooks, RB, University of Minnesota

The Elks’ starting running back job isn’t up for grabs but Brooks did enough in his first preseason outing to be in line for a depth spot. The five-foot-11, 200-pound back carried 11 times for 72 yards and showcased a physical downhill style that is difficult for CFL defences to stop. If he repeats the performance, it will be difficult for Edmonton not to make room for him on the practice roster.

Photo courtesy: CFL

#70 Dean Faithfull, K, Colorado State University Pueblo**

Watching kickers is nobody’s favourite task but the Elks’ season could very well hang on the leg of 36-year-old former British soccer player Dean Faithfull. The surprise second-overall pick in the 2023 Global Draft appears to be the only player in contention for the team’s kicking job and he was just 7-of-12 with a long of 42 yards in one collegiate season with the Thunderwolves. The middle-aged Englishman hit twice from 23 yards out and once from 37 while nailing two converts in his CFL debut, but he also missed from 34 yards out. He needs to prove he can accurately hit from distance before anyone is comfortable with this arrangement.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.