The first CFL preseason games happen this week, with the Toronto Argonauts taking on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wednesday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes playing Thursday and Friday featuring both a Saskatchewan Roughriders-Edmonton Eskimos clash and a battle between the B.C. Lions and the Calgary Stampeders. Unfortunately for those hoping to watch, though, only the Hamilton-Montreal (Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern, RDS) and Saskatchewan-Edmonton (Friday, 9 p.m. Eastern, TSN) games will be televised. Still, it's worth following the rest of the games via radio, Twitter or post-game writeups; they're not overly essential, but they should impact some training-camp battles. Here are five key storylines to watch during this first week of preseason action:
1. Will either Mike Reilly or Matt Nichols claim the Eskimos' starting QB job?
The ongoing quarterbacking battle in Edmonton has been one of the most surprising developments thus far, as Reilly looked like the clear choice coming into camp regardless of Eskimos' management's unwillingness to anoint him. Reilly's accomplished much more in the CFL than Nichols has thus far, and Edmonton's offseason move to grab him looked like a clear desire to upgrade their quarterback spot, so it seemed that the lack of comment at the start of camp might just be to push him a bit. It may have turned into an actual battle, though: so far, head coach Kavis Reed is refusing to even say who's getting the start Friday. Regardless of who starts Friday, both should play, though, and a lights-out performance from one or the other might do a lot for their cause to start going forward.
2. Who's going to be the Argonauts' backup QB?
In Toronto, the quarterback drama isn't about the starter, as Ricky Ray is quite well-entrenched there after leading the Argos to the 2012 Grey Cup. However, Jarious Jackson's offseason departure for a coaching job with B.C. means the race to be Ray's backup is wide open. With Ray sitting out Wednesday's game (along with many other Double Blue starters), it should provide a great chance for Zach Collaros, Trevor Harris and CFL rookies Mitchell Gale and Josh Portis to show what they can do.
3. How do the Tiger-Cats look without Chris Williams and George Cortez?
Williams, everyone's favourite contract-dispute subject, hasn't elected to return to Hamilton yet. That leaves the Tiger-Cats with the challenging task of finding a returner who can deliver anywhere close to similar production. Beyond that, Williams has also played a substantial role as a receiver on offence in the past, and the Ticats' offence that led the CFL in many categories last year may look substantially different in the wake of the departure of former head coach/offensive coordinator George Cortez (now the OC in Saskatchewan). New head coach/general manager/El Supremo Kent Austin has an impressive offensive background of his own, of course, as does OC/receivers coach Tommy Condell, but how quickly will the Ticats adjust to their scheme, especially without the presence of a speedy threat like Williams?
4. Can Brad Sinopoli continue his impressive transition to receiver?
Sinopoli shone at quarterback in the Canadian university ranks, but decided to transition to receiver ahead of this year thanks partly to the challenges that face Canadian quarterbacks. He's done very well there so far despite his unconventional background, and injuries to many of the Stampeders' Canadian receivers might mean he could solidify a roster spot with a decent showing in the preseason.
5. Will any Montreal running backs stand out?
The Alouettes' running-back battle, another key training camp storyline, is far from resolved thus far. Former NFLer Dominic Rhodes is in the mix there, as are fellow imports Brandon Whitaker and Kris Jennings and Canadians Jerome Messam and Steven Lumbala. There's a lot of talent at that position, and how many snaps each player gets and what they do with them may tell us which way the Alouettes are planning to go.
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