‘Tis the (pre)season of giving: five thoughts on the Elks’ turnover-laden loss to the Riders

Courtesy: CFL

It was the season of giving in the Edmonton Elks’ first preseason game of 2024. Five turnovers and no takeaways led to the 28-27 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Gifting continues

Last season, the Elks gifted the Riders two points in the standings by not running out of the endzone on a kickoff in a tie game. The generosity continued in this game.

It started early when Javon Leake lost a punted ball in the sun and dropped it at the Edmonton two-yard line. Saskatchewan’s Kosi Onyeka scooped it up for six points. Oops, you’re welcome.

Three series later, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson wound up for a throw but bumped into Kevin Brown on the backswing and fumbled on his own 17-yard line. That was recovered by the other shade of green and led to another touchdown. Oops, again.

Three minutes later, MBT’s throw to Eugene Lewis somehow didn’t hit the ground and instead bounced up into the waiting arms of Antoine Brooks for the pick-six. A third oops brought the tally to 21 points for the opposition.

Just for fun, Edmonton added a fumble after a catch and another dropped punt in the fourth quarter. Both were recovered by the visitors and one turned into another three points. The Elks had a shot at one turnover of their own but instead of knocking the ball out of bounds, they tried to scoop and score and missed. The Riders retained possession.

“The five turnovers were the difference in the ball game. The first thing we work every day is tackling and turnovers and on the offensive side, it’s ball security,” said head coach Chris Jones. “Conversely, we did not have any takeaways. We had an opportunity with the rule of last touch. We had an opportunity to prevent that last field goal and that is the difference in the game.”

Who stood out

The defence as a whole had a good game with a significant improvement in stopping the run. Linebacker Nick Anderson, from Tulane University, had four tackles including two for a loss and seemed to be around the ball most of the game.

I have been pretty keen on Leon O’Neal Jr., who comes from Texas A&M, throughout training camp. He had two tackles from the SAM linebacker position and looked as fast in real game action as he has in practices. Other notables from the defence included defensive end Elliott Brown, who had three tackles and a sack, and cornerback KiShawn Walker, who had one tackle and a great knockdown.

On the offensive side of the ball, Hergy Mayala led the team with 90 yards and was not only getting open consistently getting open but was also running over to cheer on his teammates after every catch.

I liked what I saw from second-year receiver Deontez Alexander. He had only three catches for 28 yards but seemed to have chemistry with Bethel-Thompson. Tomas Jack-Kurdyla looked to have a decent day at right guard as well, with the o-line as a whole giving up a lot of pressure but no sacks.

Quarterback room

Mcleod Bethel-Thompson got his first taste of the Edmonton offence in a game situation on Saturday. There were some overthrows and the pick-six but overall, he was still excited by the results.

“Turnovers will kill you in the CFL,” he said after the game. “First offence had two that turned into 14 points in the first half. We moved the ball well. We missed three big plays in the end zone with open receivers. That’s the negative, but the positive is that we’re scary. We are a dynamic team. First team and second team. we are pushing the ball down the field. Route depth was good and just need a little more discipline to sustain drives. It’s going to be great film to watch.”

Tre Ford came in for the second half and showed a lot of what we saw late last year. He had a couple of big throws on the run, ran for 20 yards himself, and completed 12 of 14 passes for 121 yards. He also looked to be more comfortable in the pocket than he did in 2023. I think the combination of teaching by MBT and his experience will help him reach that next level.

Jarret Doege cleaned up the last half of the fourth quarter and almost had the pass to set up a winning field goal. Chris Jones said after the game that he wanted to see more of the quarterbacks.

“We got a really good look at three of our quarterbacks. I meant to try to play Malik Henry late but I wanted to give Doege one more series. We have one more preseason game to try and get our evaluation on that young man.”

Weird Sidelines

It was strange to see Chris Jones on the sideline and not calling the defence. He was mostly away from new defensive coordinator Jason Shivers as he called plays.

“It was the first time in 20-some years. A lot of these kids weren’t even born the last time I didn’t call the defence,” Jones said when I asked him. “It’s hard but I hired Shivers for a reason and I let those guys do their job. Jason’s doing a good job.”

One More Evaluation

Coach Jones said they were able to evaluate 80 players in Saturday’s game. The last chance for a number of those players will come this Friday against the B.C. Lions.

I expect to see four or five of the quarterbacks and a lot of rotation in receivers and defensive backs.  Decisions will come swiftly after that game, as the final cutdown deadline is midnight on Saturday, June 1.

Andrew Hoskins is a lifelong Edmonton resident and the host of the Turf District Podcast.