The Edmonton Elks have shuffled the deck at quarterback ahead of their matchup with the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, but dual-threat Canadian Tre Ford is still on the outside looking in.
The 25-year-old has been named a healthy scratch for the second straight week, but head coach and general manager Chris Jones insists that decision does not represent a lack of faith in the young pivot.
“Tre’s a good player. You’ve gotta have a short-yardage guy; that’s not necessarily something that is one of his strengths,” he told the Edmonton media this week.
“He’s a true quarterback and if we were in a three-quarterback world and we were just going to travel three guys, then he would probably be travelling. But you’ve got to get first downs and they have the defensive line off in the CFL and we’ve got to be able to maintain possession of the football, so it requires a short-yardage quarterback.”
The Elks have struggled to consistently generate first downs with QB sneaks. Short-yardage specialist Kai Locksley and starter Taylor Cornelius converted on just 83 percent of their attempts last season according to CFL stats guru Derek Taylor — among the worst in the league.
Locksley was released by the team earlier this week after Jones’ decision not to play him in place of the benched Cornelius caused an apparent dispute on the sidelines. The Elks brought back training camp cut Khalil Tate to fulfill that short-yardage role, not believing the six-foot, 185-pound Ford capable of performing those physical duties.
“The players are entitled to their opinion but when it comes down to it, I make the choice. They don’t have to necessarily like it, but they have to respect it,” Jones said of his philosophy regarding roster decisions. “All of our guys are really good guys; they respect our coaches and that’s kind of our environment.”
Ford was drafted by the Elks with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft, becoming the first Canadian quarterback selected in the first round since 1980. He made his first career start in Week 4, completing 15-of-26 pass attempts for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception while running six times for 61 yards in a victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He was the first U Sports quarterback to start and win a regular-season CFL game since 1985.
The native of Niagara Falls, Ont. suffered a shoulder injury early the following week in a start against the Calgary Stampeders. He missed two months of action before returning against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in mid-September in a backup role.
Ford made one final start against the B.C. Lions in mid-October after Edmonton had already been eliminated from postseason contention. He completed 22-of-36 pass attempts for 242 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while running the ball eight times for 72 yards.
Despite the promising flashes, Taylor Cornelius won over the starting job in Ford’s absence and received a two-year contract extension. When the Elks struggled to begin the 2023 season, rookie American Jarret Doege was added to the roster in place of Ford and quickly replaced Cornelius in his first appearance, earning the start this week.
Still, Jones insists that Ford is in the mix as a player the team feels comfortable starting at quarterback, even if he is behind Doege, Cornelius, and Tate on the depth chart.
“He’s a good player. We just have three guys that we feel can play that position.”
The Waterloo product won the Hec Crighton Trophy as the best player in U Sports football in 2021, completing 63 percent of his passes for 1,770 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six interceptions while rushing 66 times for 667 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. In 33 career games for the Warriors, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 8,003 yards, 64 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions while rushing for 2,816 yards and 19 majors.
Ford caught the attention of scouts on both sides of the border due to his freakish athleticism, recording a 4.45-second forty-yard dash, 36-inch vertical jump, ten-foot, five-inch broad jump, 6.85-second three-cone drill, and 4.27-second shuttle in the pre-draft process. He attended rookie mini-camp with the Baltimore Ravens in 2022 and logged tryouts with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders this offseason.
The winless Elks have yet to find a way to harness that athletic ability for their struggling offence and will once again leave Ford to watch from home when they visit the Redblacks on Friday.