The Ottawa Redblacks defeated the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 34-23 on Thursday night at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium.
With the majority of their veterans remaining in the nation’s capital for the team’s second and final preseason contest, the Redblacks’ squad was heavy on backups, youth and those on the fringes of the roster.
Here are all my thoughts on the game:
1) Not only did Tyrie Adams do enough to cement the third-string position at quarterback, but by going four-of-four for 139 yards — including two deep completions for gains of 62 and 57 yards — the second-year pro sent a message to the coaching staff that he’s more than capable of running the offence if called upon in the regular season.
Adams finished the game with one touchdown in the air and another on the ground. His decision-making was sharp, his timing precise and it was easy to forget that he wasn’t picking apart Toronto’s backup defenders, but rather their starting unit. All in all, it was about as perfect an outing as a quarterback could have in the preseason.
2) In addition to Adams shining, fellow quarterbacks Dustin Crum and Jake Dunniway were also efficient. Crum completed 67 percent of his passes for 83 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 67 yards on the ground. Crum’s ability to move around the pocket and avoid pressure or take off and scramble when drifting defenders opened up gaps was impressive. Dunniway came in during the fourth quarter and went four-of-five for 28 yards.
3) It’s tough to evaluate the running backs on a night when the offensive line struggled to open up lanes in the ground game but of the three backs who got touches, it was Amlicar Polk — the Redblacks’ seventh-round pick in the 2023 draft — who stood out the most. The former Gee-Gee entered the game in the fourth quarter, displaying great burst and quick feet while turning his eight carries into 33 yards.
American rookie De’Montre Tuggle was looking to build off his impressive performance against the Alouettes, but was constantly hit in the backfield, resulting in his six carries mustering just three yards. The best moment of his night came on a 39-yard kickoff return when he flashed his shiftiness and speed.
4) Emmanuel Butler has had a strong training camp, and his 62-yard reception in the first quarter only helps build his case for a roster spot. The six-foot-three, 215-pounder faces stiff competition in Ottawa’s deep receiving corps, but his speed and ability to consistently use his size to make contested catches are noteworthy.
Second-year Canadian Keaton Bruggeling made four catches for 20 yards and a touchdown but the guy who most helped himself was veteran American Quan Bray. Not only did Bray haul in all six targets that came his way, but he also returned two punts for 20 yards.
Considering the guys that didn’t even make the trip — Jaelon Acklin, Justin Hardy, Nate Behar, Tevaun Smith and the injured Shaq Evans — and how well those who did play in Guelph performed, head coach Bob Dyce and his coaching staff will have some tough calls to make as they round out their pass-catching group.
5) It’s unfair to be too critical of the offensive line when you take into account that Ottawa was using their second and third-stringers against Toronto’s starting defensive front seven, but overall, the group had a rough outing. They struggled to impose their will in the ground game, repeatedly allowing penetration that blew plays up before they had a chance to get started and only avoided giving up multiple sacks due to the mobility of all three quarterbacks who took snaps.
The biggest takeaway from the group is that Canadian Zack Pelehos played the first few series at right tackle before being pulled and given the lack of glaring mistakes, he’s likely done enough to earn the starting job.
6) Coming into training camp Ottawa had a three-horse race at linebacker for the weakside position and after two preseason games, things look clear as mud.
Frankie Griffin was spectacular for the second week in a row, making four tackles, including two for a loss. Gary Johnson Jr. was also notable, registering three tackles, including one for a loss. Canadian Adam Auclair didn’t make the trip to Guelph but showed well last week against Montreal.
All three will make the roster and whoever winds up not starting will still find themselves on the field and contributing in specific packages. If forced to guess, I’d say Griffin probably gets the nod.
As for the rest of the defence, Money Hunter’s torn pectoral muscle means there’s a job up for grabs in the secondary. Fourth-year pro Damon Webb did everything he could to state his case against the Argos, making four tackles and showcasing tight coverage skills and closing speed. American rookie Ty’Reke James made three tackles and had a pass breakup while Tareke Lewis notched two tackles and a fourth-quarter interception that effectively sealed the victory. Lucas Cormier — the 10th overall pick of the 2023 draft — should have had a pick-six and broke up another pass in the end zone.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hakeem Bailey had a forgettable outing, with defensive pass interference and illegal contact flags keeping Toronto drives alive.
7) With Ottawa choosing to keep punter Richie Leone at home, Barrie native Jake Julien had a chance to showcase his skills. His seven punts were impressive, due to a number of them having excellent hang time. Overall, he averaged 42.1 yards per punt, but thanks to shoddy kick coverage, the average field positional flip was just 25.8 yards.
Even if it is just preseason action, it has to be a real concern for Dyce that his special teams kick coverage has been so leaky. A week after allowing Montreal’s returners to average 20.3 yards per return, the Redblacks were gashed by the Argos to a tune of 22.9 yards per return. They also allowed a house call in the third quarter.
Byrd flies it home 🏡 pic.twitter.com/LlhK6Mc4Jk
— Toronto Argonauts (@TorontoArgos) June 2, 2023
8) I’ve slagged the league repeatedly in the past for missing opportunities to grow the game, so I need to take a minute to congratulate all involved with making the CFL Preseason Live happen.
I’ve watched every game the past two weeks and aside from some occasional choppy camera work, they have been excellent. The images are a clear 1080p and count me among those who really enjoy the visuals being paired with local radio broadcasts. My only suggestion would be that in future, offer fans the ability to select which team’s radio call they would prefer to hear.
9) With the win, Ottawa’s preseason comes to an end on a positive note. But just like last week when I preached not reading too much into the loss, I’ll say the same about this week’s win. It’s not what casual fans want to hear but the preseason isn’t about winning or losing. It’s simply about evaluating how players respond to adversity; who rises to the moment and who crumbles under the lights.
The Redblacks should consider themselves fortunate not only because they had several bubble players perform well — which will make for some spirited conversations between Dyce, his coaching staff and general manager Shawn Burke — but also because they escaped training camp without any catastrophic injuries. Guys getting hurt is a part of football, but some injuries derail a season before it even gets underway. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case in Ottawa this preseason.
10) With Saturday’s deadline for cuts looming large, expect Burke to move quickly in shaping the final version of his roster. Once the roster is trimmed to 45, the practice squad assembled and depth charts announced, it’ll be full steam ahead in preparing for the season opener in Montreal on Saturday, June 10.