It came exactly as advertised for a Canadian Football League preseason tilt, what with a constant parade of personnel, a string of penalties and a collection of fresh faces desperately doing their darndest to stake a claim for permanent employment.
And yet for all its warts, Friday’s 30-20 win by the Edmonton Elks over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on a perfect night in front of 20,518 at IG Field was also glorious, especially with it coming in the wake of the labour unrest that had dominated the week before the league and the CFL Players’ Association shook hands on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Pre-season games are ultimately all about evaluation more than the scoreline, and the cold, hard reality here is cuts are coming immediately. The Blue Bombers will need to be down to 75 by 10:59 p.m. Saturday night and there are still more than 90 players in camp.
“I saw some glimpses of some great plays and great efforts,” said linebacker Adam Bighill. “It was good to watch and that’s what these games are for – evaluating – and seeing how guy splay with pads on when the lights are on.
“It was entertaining. Some big plays and guys putting out their best performances because this is when it counts. Guys know you’ve got to take advantage of opportunity, and that’s right now.”
With that in mind, let’s revisit some of the still-percolating camp storylines and tip our hat to some of those who stood out in the Blue Bombers first dress rehearsal…
The Battle for the No. 2 QB gig
With Zach Collaros not dressing, Dru Brown started for the Blue Bombes and was impressive. Limited to just three quarters work all of last year as the club’s No. 3 QB, Brown looked very comfortable at the controls, completing 10-of-13 passes for 108 yards with a TD strike to Dalton Schoen and a TD run of his own.
“I think it went pretty well. There’s still some things I think I can improve on, but I think I was seeing the pictures well and that’s kind of what I wanted to show the staff,” Brown said.
“I had the whole offseason to let the offence fester in my head and when you have that second year where you’re comfortable, things become more second nature.”
CFL veteran Dakota Prukop had his moments, too, completing 5-of-14 passes for 81 yards while rushing for a TD of his own. He also did throw two interceptions. It’s not clear how much Collaros will play in the pre-season finale Tuesday in Saskatchewan – if at all – so the work Brown and Prukop do in that game could be critical. But based on Friday night, Brown only helped himself with his work.
The starting RB battle
It’s uncertain how this may play out as to who will replace Andrew Harris as the starting tailback, but whether it’s Brady Oliveira or Johnny Augustine in the backfield the chores look to be in capable hands.
Oliveira started the game and rushed three times for 19 yards and Augustine then did what he always does when he’s in the game by running like every carry could be his last. He finished with 54 yards on just six carries.
What unfolded Friday – with both men busy sharing the workload – could very well have been a snapshot of what we’ll see when the games start for real.
THE KICKER WATCH
Both Marc Liegghio and Ali Mourtada took turns handling all three kicking chores – punting, placekicking and kickoffs – and there wasn’t much to differentiate the two. Lieggho finished with a 40.7-yard average on three punts; Mourtada averaged 37.7 yards on three punts. Neither player attempted a field goal, with Liegghio hitting his one convert attempt and Mourtada going 1-for-2 on his converts, the one miss hitting the upright.
THE BIG MOMENT
Well, preseason games don’t deliver turning-point moments, but the Blue Bombers’ longest play from scrimmage was a Brown-to-Nic Demski completion of 49 yards that helped set up the TD toss to Schoen.
THE BIG STAT
We keep coming back to Brown, but his 76.9 completion percentage with no interceptions speaks of his comfort level.
Offence: Dru Brown, QB – So much to like about his performance, from this authority in delivering strikes to the way he moved around the pocket.
Defence: Malik Clements, LB – Stepped in at middle linebacker after Adam Bighill exited and brought some lumber. Led the Bombers with six tackles and a sack.
Special teams: Greg McCrae, RB – With neither kicker attempting a FG, we give the nod to McCrae, who returned three kickoffs for 54 yards, a missed field goal for 24 yards and one punt for nine yards.
Cool moment for University of Manitoba product Cole Adamson in the second quarter, when he sacked Tre Ford. Adamson also had two tackles in a solid game that came in front of tons of friends and family.
“He got a sack… we saw him get his helmet ripped off, too. We drafted him where we drafted him knowing he was going back to school,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. I liked his motor and he’s even finding more of it here. He takes coaching well and it’s nice to see him have success on his home field.”
Friday’s game marked the first pre-season game for the Blue Bombers since June 6, 2019 and a 35-29 victory over Saskatchewan in Regina.
NEXT: The Blue Bombers wrap up their preseason schedule next Tuesday, May 31st, in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The 2022 season opener goes Friday June 10th at 7:30 p.m. when the Ottawa RedBlacks pay a visit to IG Field.
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