QBs, non-vets report as rookie camps open
TORONTO — It’s always a sign of spring when quarterbacks and rookies first take the field in CFL cities across Canada.
Training camps don’t officially open until May 19, but on Wednesday clubs are permitted to open shop for QBs and non-veterans ahead of schedule.
As rookie camps arrive and the first players suit up, there are plenty of storylines to track this week, from the head coaching debuts to starting quarterback battles.
It will also be the first chance for both global players and 2019 draft picks to take the field and get their first taste of an exciting new setting.
“It’s nice (for the rookies) to get their feet wet,” Bombers general manager Kyle Walters told the team’s official website, BlueBombers.com. “They get in the organization, learn where everything is and just go through a couple of days before the veterans show up.
“The ultimate goal is to give these guys the best opportunity to compete for jobs with a couple extra days of learning for them and get comfortable with their surroundings before the vets show up and the real competition begins.”
In Montreal, all eyes will be on Antonio Pipkin. The 23-year-old is entering his third CFL season and hoping to win a starting quarterback job out of camp for the first time following the off-season departure of Johnny Manziel. Pipkin dazzled at times in 2018 with his strong arm and quick legs, but also struggled with interceptions, throwing eight picks over four starts.
Pipkin may be the early favourite for the job, but he won’t go uncontested. Former top prospect Vernon Adams Jr. will be given a fair shake, while Jeff Mathews and Matthew Shiltz are also in the frame of what appears to be a wide open battle.
Just a two-hour drive down the 417, the Ottawa REDBLACKS are gearing up for a quarterback competition of their own. Many assume free agent signing Jonathon Jennings will win the No.1 job, as the 26-year-old looks to return to his previous trajectory as one of the league’s rising star pivots.
Not so fast. Head Coach Rick Campbell has said Dominique Davis will be given every opportunity to flip the script, as the veteran of four seasons already has a knowledge of the offence after spending 2018 with the club.
Toronto, Edmonton and Hamilton will wait until May 19 to open camp, but there are plenty of other storylines for the six teams taking the field this week.
In Kamloops, B.C., DeVone Claybrooks will make his head coaching debut along with a new-look staff that includes former players Nik Lewis, Ryan Phillips and Drew Tate. Marquee free agent signing Mike Reilly will lead the first huddle of what promises to be a banner year on the West Coast.
At McMahon Stadium in Calgary, the Stampeders begin their title defence with a new-look defence after losing nearly two-thirds of their starters from last year’s Grey Cup. New defensive coordinator Brett Monson, promoted to replace Claybrooks, will try to get his rookies off to a quick start before veterans report over the weekend.
After a busy off-season, expectations are especially high in Winnipeg. The usual battery of Matt Nichols and Mike O’Shea leads the team into Wednesday’s session, hoping to take the next step and become the top team in the always-contentious West.
On Thursday the Riders will take the field at Mosaic Stadium, where their season ended last November at the hands of the Bombers. The new bosses, General Manager Jeremy O’Day and Head Coach Craig Dickenson, will oversee camp following the off-season departure of Chris Jones.
Training Camp Important Dates:
May 15, 2019 – Rookie camps open
Non-veteran players, quarterbacks and veterans coming off season-ending injuries are permitted to participate.
May 19, 2019 – Training camps open
Teams are permitted to participate in training camp with 75 roster players in addition to 2019 CFL Draft picks; two additional national non-counters; and underclass national quarterbacks ineligible to sign a contract or play in a pre-season game as part of the QB Internship program, among others.
May 26, 2019 – Pre-season begins
The first game of 2019 kicks off with pre-season action between the BC Lions and Edmonton Eskimos. Every team will play two pre-season games between May 26 and June 7.
June 8, 2019 – CFL rosters reduced to 46
Expect a flurry of activity on June 8 as clubs must reduce their roster to 46 active players, excluding those on the six-game injured list and those transferred to the one-game injured list, by 10:00 p.m. ET.
June 13, 2019 – CFL regular season kicks off
The regular season kicks off in Hamilton, where Orlondo Steinauer makes his head coaching debut and Zach Collaros visits his former team for the first time in a clash between the Riders and Ticats at Tim Hortons Field.