Mike Reilly (13) may be closer to starting for the Eskimos after Friday's preseason game.
As discussed Wednesday before the CFL began its first week of preseason action, these games tend to be less notable for the final scores than what they tell us about various positional battles. They may pit team against team, and Saskatchewan, B.C., Hamilton and Toronto all can take some pride in their victories, but the real conflicts here are internal, not external: how did players' performances affect their chances of starting or of making the roster? With that in mind, here are five key takeaways from the week's games.
—1. The Edmonton quarterback situation may be closer to decided.
The belief here has long been that the Eskimos' offseason acquisition of former B.C. backup Mike Reilly made him the most logical choice as their starter this year, but the team has been proceeding as if there's a real battle going on between him and Matt Nichols, who hadn't particularly overwhelmed in his CFL action to date. That battle may have swung in Reilly's favour as a result of Friday's game, though. Nichols got the start and completed five of seven passes for 88 yards, but threw two interceptions; Reilly was a bit better, completing just four of nine with an interception, but throwing for 102 yards and a touchdown as well. Even more importantly, though, Nichols left the game with a right knee injury. Even if he's recovered enough to play in next week's preseason game, he may not be at 100 per cent, which could give Reilly an extra edge in the battle for the starting job.
—2. Hugh O'Neill might be ready for his close-up.
O'Neill, the former University of Alberta kicker, has been with the Lions since they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft, but his role to date has mostly been as insurance in case veteran Paul McCallum got hurt. That might change this year, though. The Lions are contemplating using him in conjunction with McCallum on game days this year, perhaps having him punt or handle kickoffs while McCallum focuses on field goals. O'Neill showed he's quite capable in all facets of the kicking game Friday, though, booting 11 punts an average of 40.6 yards and making all five of his field goal attempts, including the winning one from 47 yards out with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter. It was an impressive showing, and one that should add to his case to be active on game days.
—3. Winnipeg's unlikely to be changing quarterbacks yet.
In the wake of the Bombers' disappointing 2012 season, there was plenty of talk that the team may look to move on from oft-injured quarterback Buck Pierce. The changes came behind him, though, with the team axing experienced backups Alex Brink and Joey Elliott and bringing in CFL rookies Max Hall and Chase Clement to compete with holdover Justin Goltz. While Pierce's starting job was never completely assured, the lack of CFL experience of the players behind him made it seem rather likely he'd be under centre for Winnipeg at the start of the season, and the less-than-stellar performance from the other quarterbacks in a 24-6 loss to Toronto Wednesday suggests they have more adjusting to the CFL game ahead of them before they're viable starting options. That may put extra importance on keeping Pierce upright and healthy this year.
—4. Lindsey Lamar could help the Ticats move on from Chris Williams.
The ado over Chris Williams' contract dispute, which was resolved in the Ticats' favour by an arbitrator but hasn't seen him return to the team yet, has been one of the biggest off-season stories in Hamilton. However, while Williams is a remarkable talent in the returning and receiving game, he's far from the only guy out there who can return kicks. The Ticats' Lindsey Lamar showed that with an explosive 88-yard punt return for a touchdown in Thursday's win over Montreal. One impressive touchdown doesn't necessarily make him the next superstar, of course, but it suggests that Hamilton's special teams may still be able to get the job done even if Williams doesn't return to the black and gold.
—5. Quinton Porter might be an intriguing backup in Montreal.
The Ticats were opposed by a familiar face Thursday, as former Hamilton backup Quinton Porter played most of the second half for Montreal, completing eight of 17 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while rushing five times for a team-high 38 yards. Anthony Calvillo will obviously be the Alouettes' starter, but the 40-year-old Calvillo has had some injury issues lately, and with long-time backup Adrian McPherson gone to the Arena Football League, Montreal needed to find a quality player who can step in if Calvillo gets hurt or loses his effectiveness. One preseason game doesn't necessarily mean that Porter is that guy, but he was impressive Thursday and should be in the lead for the backup job in Montreal, and his CFL experience could make him a quality fill-in if something happens to Calvillo. That's important: just ask Calgary about how much a reliable, experienced backup quarterback can matter.
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