Setting the scene:
This will be our first peek at the 2023 Blue Bombers as they travel to Edmonton for the club’s first of two preseason games, followed by the final tune-up against the Saskatchewan Roughriders next Friday at IG Field.
The club will likely travel with 64 players and has pieced together a mish-mash lineup of veterans and prospects trying to land a roster spot. This will be Edmonton’s final preseason game, as they fell 29-24 to the Stampeders in Calgary on Monday.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3 p.m. CDT, Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, AB
Live streaming: https://www.cfl.ca/preseasonlive
Radio: 680 CJOB
Last meeting: Winnipeg 48 Edmonton 11, October 8, 2022, at IG Field.
- Edmonton’s starter this year will be Taylor Cornelius. He is 4-16 as a starter over two years and 0-4 vs. the Blue Bombers. Cornelius did not play in the first Elks preseason game in Calgary and should take snaps against Winnipeg.
- Winnipeg will run this season with Zach Collaros, the reigning two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player. He is 61-36 in his career and now a remarkable 33-5 in his games as a starter in Winnipeg, including playoffs.
The Blue Bombers are bringing four of the five quarterbacks in camp to Edmonton in Collaros, Dru Brown, Tyrrell Pigrome and Josh Jones, with Canadian QB intern Arnaud Desjardins of Laval remaining in Winnipeg.
What hasn’t been determined yet is the number of snaps each of the four pivots will get Saturday. “I’m not sure of the rep distribution yet,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “We’ll figure it out. They’re still putting together the final touches on the gameplan. In the past, Zach hasn’t really needed a lot of reps.”
Winnipeg: Mike O’Shea has a career won-lost record of 82-58. He ranks third in Blue Bombers history in coaching wins, behind only Bud Grant (102) and Cal Murphy (86).
Edmonton: Chris Jones is 57-51 in his career as a head coach, which includes two stops in Edmonton and one in Saskatchewan as the boss.
BLUE BOMBER SPOTLIGHT: PK Chandler Staton
Staton has been robotically doing his thing since the first day of rookie camp, even as veterans Marc Liegghio and Sergio Castillo have been seen as the main combatants for the placekicking chores.
He’ll be the lone placekicker in Edmonton, with Liegghio and Castillo not making the trip.
First spotted at a kicking showcase in Arizona in the winter by O’Shea, Staton had a look from the Green Bay Packers in 2022 after playing at Appalachian State, where he set a school record by hitting on 20 of 21 field goal attempts in his senior season, earning him First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference while being named a semi-finalist for the Groza Award as the NCAA’s top kicker.
“Throughout my career, even in college, I’ve been an underdog,” said Staton. “I’m kinda comfortable in that position. When it comes to kicking if you do your job, you’re going to be fine and at the end of the day we make kicks and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s all I’m focused on right now, just making the next kick.”
There’s a black-and-white aspect to field goal kicking – it either goes through the uprights or it doesn’t – that can make the gig so high pressure. Staton offered this perspective:
“This is kinda how I told coach the other day: everybody likes to say, ‘You’re a kicker, you have one job.’ When you really break it down everybody has one job at every position – they just have more opportunity. I think I handle it the same way, it’s just that the mentality is different because the time in between opportunities is a lot longer for us. At the end of the day everybody has a job to do.”
Veterans not making the trip include defensive backs Brandon Alexander, Winston Rose, Desmond Lawrence and Nick Hallett, defensive linemen Jackson Jeffcoat, Cam Lawson and Jake Thomas, linebackers Adam Bighill, Jesse Briggs and Shayne Gauthier, offensive lineman Tui Eli, running backs Brady Oliveira, Mike Miller, Greg McCrae and Konner Burtenshaw, receivers Janarion Grant and Dalton Schoen, and kickers Liegghio and Castillo, as mentioned above.
STANDING OUT KEYS
CFL training camps are considerably shorter than those down south, and with just two preseason games players don’t get many under-the-lights real reps to make an impression.
“We look for guys to know what they’re doing out there, compete, make plays and set themselves apart,” said O’Shea. “On film it would look like they’re doing everything right, that all the assignments are correct. They’re efficient in their movement. It might not add up to tackles or catches or whatever, but they’re always right and always in the right spot.
“Football’s a great sport. You’ve got 11 other guys around you and you can do your job all the time and still not end up on the stat sheet – defensively you should because it’s all about hustle and if you do it all right and the ball didn’t come your way, go find the ball. Offensively, it’s a little different – for skill position guys you might do it all right and then not get a catch.”
So much of making a good impression is absolutely the on-field performance. But handling the onslaught of information – especially for American players new to the Canadian game – is also part of the overall evaluation.
“It’s a lot for the young guys,” said O’Shea. “But I don’t think we’re in the position where we want to lower that standard. There’s lots of time for them to get caught up. There’s access to coaches and other players. I mean, Woli (veteran receiver Drew Wolitarsky) is in there running a little tutorial session after meetings are over. Guys are available to help. But it’s quick and there’s certainly more details. It’s one of the things you have to do if you want to get better – you have to dig down a bit deeper to find more detail and you’ll see it will make a difference.”
The Blue Bombers split their two preseason games in 2021, losing 30-20 to Edmonton at home and then knocking off Saskatchewan 25-16 in Regina. The club then opened the season with a nine-game winning streak en route to a 15-3 regular season record.
“We all like to win. If we do all the right things, play hard… those are the things you want to see. Whatever the scoreboard says is fine. Winning feels better than losing. That’s the extent of it.” – O’Shea, when asked about how much of a priority he places on winning a preseason game.