Elks struggle to score in preseason finale: six thoughts on losing to the Lions

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/B.C. Lions

In what was the definition of an evaluation game for Edmonton, the Elks struggled to put points on the board and fell 26-9 to the B.C. Lions.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Who is number three?

Second-year quarterback Jarret Doege got the start and had a great first drive, finishing with a nice 20-yard touchdown to Dillon Mitchell. The plan was to have him play the entire first half but there was a noticeable limp early in the second quarter. He finished eight-of-10 for 66 yards and one touchdown.

University of Nevada product and former Last Chance U star Malik Henry had the ball the rest of the way. He had some good moments moving around in the pocket and was not afraid to try and go deep. Receivers did not help him out very much with a few drops and were not as open as they could have been. Overall, it was not horrible for his first CFL action after going from the tight confines of the Indoor Football League to the giant field up north. He finished up at seven-for-15 passing with 87 yards.

Cole McDonald only saw action as the short-yardage quarterback and did not have a lot of success moving the ball. Four times he was stopped inside the Lions’ two-yard line. He looked like he was not leaning in enough for the push. Granted, he did not have the starters blocking in front of him, but the lack of success is a bit troubling.

I didn’t see anything that would unseat Doege as the third-string guy but I hope they keep Henry around to learn more and develop the skills he does have. Doege could be hitting the injured list and that may open up a spot for Henry to continue his work. The battle for the short-yardage guy will be a toss-up between McDonald and Woodrow Trey Lowe III. Lowe seemed to be used more in the special teams packages and that may give him the edge.

Bounce back

One of the worst parts of the 2023 season was the sophomore slump experienced by receiver Dillon Mitchell. After an electric rookie introduction with 637 yards in just nine games in 2022, Mitchell fell to 532 yards over 18 games last year. He was a spectator for a good amount of camp practices and there was concern that he would never get back to those rookie expectations.

He only had four targets in this game, but found ways to get open and made a great catch on the Elks’ only touchdown. Playing against the Lions starters, he looked more like the ’22 D-Mitch. He is still in a battle for one of those starting spots, mainly with Deontez Alexander, but this was a good showing to that end.

Catching my eye – Offence

Speaking of Deontez Alexander, he had another good showing with the longest catch of the night for either team. He is one of those guys that can take a five-yard pass and make it 35 with his speed. He has been a standout for most of training camp and I expect to see him playing a bigger role in the offence this year.

The running back position is set with Kevin Brown and Javon Leake but there are questions about who else may play a role. The Elks have not run the ball very often in the preseason, but Camerun Peoples did show some flashes when he got the ball last night. He was shifting nicely to the open side in his limited runs and was just shy of a touchdown. Jermaine Brown Jr. only had a 1.5-yard average on his six rushing attempts but did contribute some decent returns. It will be an interesting decision to watch from Coach Jones.

I will give a shoutout to Phil Grohovac for running the offensive line at center for this game. The Elks did not allow a sack in either preseason contest, which looks to be a step forward. Going against the Lions starters, the line did not look out of place and Grohovac was directing traffic. He has likely secured his spot as the sixth O-lineman.

Catching my eye – Defence

For a second straight week, Leon O’Neal Jr. stood out for his speed and hitting ability. He only had one defensive tackle in this game but it was a sack. He was also noticeable on special teams with a big tackle. I think we will be saying his name a lot this year.

After a good camp last year, Marloshawn Franklin Jr. missed the first half of the season with a broken hand. This year, he has continued to show he can be the utility guy in the secondary. He had seven tackles in this game, with two for a loss. The main question is if he will be a starter or a rotational player in 2024.

Kordell Jackson stood out in this game with an interception and narrowly missed a second one that would have been a pick-six. He did have one penalty but seemed to be in the right spot more often than not.

KiShawn Walker and Devodric Bynum were also both noticeable again this week. Walker got an interception late and Bynum had a big tackle for a loss. There will be some tough decisions for Jason Shivers, Geroy Simon and Chris Jones.

One Spot Solidified

There is no doubt that Jake Julien will be the punter for the Elks this year. There was plenty of time to see him in the preseason with 11 punts over two games. His 52-yard average was seven yards higher than his average from last year. With my rough counting, he had a lot in 4-5 seconds of hang time range as well. He has been working on his directional punting and dropped a 49-yard punt out at the B.C. eight-yard line in the final three minutes of the game.

It will be interesting to see how the team manages its three placekickers. Boris Bede comes in as one of the best in the league with a 94.9 percent mark last year. Dean Faithfull has improved his kicking and made two from beyond 40 in the preseason games. Draft pick Vincent Blanchard, coming from Laval, has shown a very strong leg and just missed a 57-yard field goal in the game against Saskatchewan.

Bede will be the opening day kicker and I would expect that Faithfull will be on the practice roster with his Global status. I’m not sure what Jones will decide to do with Blanchard but I’d like to see him around in some capacity. He has a booming leg and could learn a lot from the other kickers.

Let The Season Begin

The Elks wrap up the preseason with an 0-2 record but there is a lot of optimism based on what we saw in those two games. The offensive starters can move the ball. The defence seems to have taken a step forward in their speed and run coverage. Edmonton has some bonafide special teamers in Bede and Leake. The question is can they put it all together and avoid yet another bad start?

The 75th season kickoff week will be filled with events celebrating the past successes of this team. The current group has a chance to finish the week on a positive note when they take on the Roughriders for the home opener on Saturday, June 8.

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