O’Leary: Preseason games have finally arrived

CFL

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There comes a point in training camp where the players get sick of staring into the same faces in practice.

One week of camp is usually all it takes. Every year, in just about every camp across the country we see the same things. We’re seeing them now.

You’ll read tweets about things getting heated in drills. An offensive lineman and defensive lineman quickly graduate from blocking, to pushing and shoving and all the way into scuffles. It’s unproductive, to say the least, but it’s also pretty well unavoidable.

From a players’ perspective, the preseason games can’t get here fast enough. With the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today, we can all finally say that we have some CFL action to watch.

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From the fan’s perspective, the feelings might go in reverse of the players’. It’s been almost six months to the day that the Montreal Alouettes won the Grey Cup. We’ve endured a long wait through free agency, the CFL Draft and now training camps, waiting to get back into stadiums under a warm sun — or at least the knowledge that it will soon be warmer — to get this season rolling. The players had that first day of school feeling when camps opened. On Sunday, and into next weekend, the fans will get that.

The thing is, though, it’s something of a fleeting feeling.

A veteran of preseason CFL viewing will tell you that the first quarter usually is your best serving of football. That’s when most teams roll out their intended starting lineups. If you’re curious how Trevor Harris will look after suffering a season-ending injury last year, or how AJ Ouellette might be used in Marc Mueller’s offence, make sure you’re in your seat for kickoff today. If you’ve spent the winter wondering about what the tweaked roster of the Bombers will look like, well, you may have to wait a little longer. The Bombers will start freshly returned backup QB Chris Streveler today. Not every team has the same preseason formula.

We’ll go into a full slate of four games on Saturday, May 25. If you want to see how McLeod Bethel-Thompson looks with all of those talented receivers around him in Edmonton, or if you want to see what Adarius Pickett brings to the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ defence, the first quarter of those games is likely going to be your window.

Fans will soon get their first chance to see McLeod Bethel-Thompson as an Edmonton Elk (GoElks.com)

Generally, when you get into the second quarter and the second half of these games, it shifts more to armchair scouting. If you’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the REDBLACKS’ seemingly open running back spot, watch who’s on the field and how much throughout the day when Ottawa travels to Hamilton. The same goes for the Bombers’ right tackle spot, where head coach Mike O’Shea is looking for who can fill the physically and metaphorically giant-sized cleats of Jermarcus Hardrick, (who will with full certainty look strange in Riders green after so many years on the other side of that fierce rivalry).

You may not recognize a lot of the new faces on the field in the next couple of weeks, but that’s part of the fun of preseason. Two years ago, Dalton Schoen was the unknown player out there. Last year, fans were just getting introduced to Qwan’tez Stiggers. Starting today and over the next eight games, we will undoubtedly hear the names of players that will have a tremendous impact on this coming season.

That leads us to our most important point. For the second year now, you have the ability to watch every single preseason game through TSN and CFL+. TSN will air two preseason games this year (Alouettes at REDBLACKS and Elks at Lions on Friday, May 31). For the remaining preseason contests you can come to CFL.ca, provide your email address and get access to the other seven games, including today’s Bombers-Riders tilt.

Dive into the preseason and get excited about having football back in front of us again, and know that the kickoff to the 2024 regular season is now just three weeks away.

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