Pivotal Position: Breaking down the QB depth charts

CFL

TORONTO — There are 43 quarterbacks in nine CFL training camps vying for a job right now.

Quarterback jobs in pro football are coveted and extremely limited, meaning for many, the next couple of weeks will be career-defining.

You’ve heard lots about the full-fledged contest in Montreal, where former NFL quarterback Josh Freeman and veteran Drew Willy are among those competing for the chance to start. But even with the other starting jobs sewn up, there’s plenty of competition across the board.

Let’s look at how each team is shaping up throughout camp at football’s most pivotal position.

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Matthew Shiltz is in the running for the starting QB job with the Als (MontrealAlouettes.com)

BC Lions

As long as Travis Lulay is recovering from knee surgery, Jonathon Jennings is the undisputed starter for the BC Lions. Still, 2018 will be a defining year for his CFL future, as he needs to bounce back from an underwhelming season and prove he’s the long-term answer under centre. Otherwise, a big decision is looming for new GM Ed Hervey in the 2019 off-season.

Lulay will be the Lions’ primary backup when he’s ready, and the 10th-year veteran could push Jennings for the top role should the incumbent carry his struggles into the new season. For now, 26-year-old Cody Fajardo appears to have the second-string job locked down while Lulay works his way back. Fajardo is an intriguing prospect and is looking to show the Lions he’s a future starter in the CFL.

Ricky Lloyd is also looking to earn a developmental role after joining the team just before camp when the Lions cut Alex Ross. We know very little about Lloyd, other than the 6-foot-3, 205-pound rookie led Minnesota State to the NCAA Division II National Championship Game in 2014. He’ll get a chance to show what he can do in live game action during the pre-season.

Current Depth Chart

1. Jonathon Jennings

2. Cody Fajardo

3. Ricky Lloyd

Injured: Travis Lulay

Edmonton Eskimos

Who else would you want than Mike Reilly at the top of your depth chart going into the season? The reigning Most Outstanding Player is coming off a career season in which he threw for 5,830 yards and totaled 42 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.

The off-season departure of James Franklin was addressed with the signing of Kevin Glenn, who enters his 18th season with the unique distinction of playing for his ninth CFL team. It’s hard to imagine a better insurance policy than the 38-year-old.

Kevin Glenn provides the Esks a solid insurance policy behind Mike Reilly (Esks.com)

While the Esks’ quarterback depth chart is enviable, it’s not without its questions. Franklin was the most highly-touted up-and-coming quarterback in the three-down game, but unfortunately for the Green and Gold his exit was unavoidable as Reilly, 33, has shown no signs of slowing down.

Brock Sunderland must be wondering about who takes over the role of ‘the next one’ in Edmonton, a designation that may or may not belong to sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins, who’s fighting with Danny O’Brien and Zach Kline for the No. 3 job.

Current Depth Chart

1. Mike Reilly

2. Kevin Glenn

T-3. Eli Jenkins

T-3. Danny O’Brien

T-3. Zach Kline

Calgary Stampeders

Bo Levi Mitchell‘s shoulder appears to be healthy. The Stamps’ starter also says he’s leaner after shedding around 20 pounds during his off-season workouts. Stampeders fans should have no concerns with their franchise player, who at 28 has already won a Most Outstanding Player, Grey Cup MVP and played in three championships.

Behind Mitchell, however, there are questions. The Stamps were caught off guard by Andrew Buckley‘s retirement, opening up a battle for the second-string quarterback job. Veteran Ricky Stanzi has the edge as he returns for a second season in Calgary, but the team has added three more to the competition.

Larry Brihm and Tyler Rogers are new in town, while Nick Arbuckle at least brings some familiarity with the Stamps’ offence after working out at a rookie camp last year. Whether it’s Stanzi or someone new, the Stampeders, looking to make it back to a third straight Grey Cup, need someone reliable should anything happen to Mitchell.

Current depth chart

1. Bo Levi Mitchell

T-2. Ricky Stanzi

T-2. Nick Arbuckle

T-2. Larry Brihm

T-2. Tyler Rogers

Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Riders made arguably the biggest splash of the off-season when they traded with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for Zach Collaros. Yet Chris Jones is insisting it’s an open competition between Collaros and Canadian quarterback Brandon Bridge. While Collaros is the favourite, Bridge deserves at least some consideration after helping the Riders win 10 games and make it to the Eastern Final.

Saskatchewan’s quarterback dynamic is one of the most intriguing across the CFL. With Collaros apparently in a contract year, the Riders are banking on him proving he’s the franchise quarterback they envisioned this off-season. If he doesn’t, Jones will be pressured to decide whether Bridge can be the quarterback of the future or, as the Riders’ Grey Cup aspirations continue to grow, a proven quarterback needs to be acquired.

Zach Collaros leads a deep group of Riders quarterbacks in camp this week (Riderville.com)

In the background, three quarterbacks in Marquise Williams, David Watford and B.J. Daniels are in competition for the third-strong job. That developmental role is a good opportunity for any young quarterback looking to learn the three-down game and develop as a future starter.

Current Depth Chart

T-1. Zach Collaros

T-1. Brandon Bridge

T-3. Marquise Williams

T-3. David Watford

T-3. B.J. Daniels

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Just like in Calgary, the Bombers were similarly affected when backup quarterback Darian Durant announced his retirement the week before the start of camp. Durant was firmly cemented as the backup to starter Matt Nichols after signing a free agent deal during the off-season.

Nichols has become a star in Winnipeg, last year leading the team to its first home playoff game since 2011. He’s fulfilled his potential as a former top prospect and even managed to shed the ‘game manager’ moniker that followed him around since he was a backup in Edmonton.

The problem will be if Nichols gets hurt, which happened late last season and the offence struggled to produce as a result. Alex Ross has the inside track on the backup job after spending his rookie season in BC, but rookie Chris Streveler has looked impressive in camp by many accounts.

While Canadian quarterback Alex Mahoney, undrafted in earlier this month, is not considered a significant threat to take the No. 2 job in Winnipeg, recently-signed Bryan Bennett may just be the dark horse. The 26-year-old is back for a second stint with the Bombers after being cut by Saskatchewan a year ago.

Current Depth Chart

1. Matt Nichols

T-2. Alex Ross

T-2. Chris Streveler

T-2. Alex Mahoney

T-2. Bryan Bennett

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Ticats’ depth chart is impossible to define right now, but we’ll make an attempt anyway. June Jones has stated that Jeremiah Masoli, not recently-acquired Johnny Manziel, is his No. 1 right now, and Masoli deserves that designation after turning around an 0-8 start with an impressive 6-4 run at the end of 2017.

Yet while Jones has backed his projected starting quarterback, he also hasn’t been shy about Manziel’s ability and upside in the three-down game. On the same hand, Jones has admitted that the better quarterback will play, and Manziel didn’t sign in Hamilton to be a backup.

Johnny Manziel’s name has dominated training camp discussion across the CFL (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Complicating what is the most intriguing quarterback situation in the CFL is Vernon Adams Jr., a highly-talented prospect who’s ready to take the next step after two seasons of learning the three-down game. Adams, acquired in an off-season trade with Saskatchewan, fits the June Jones mold and shouldn’t be written off.

While Bryant Moniz and Dane Evans are an afterthought to many, Moniz is in his fifth season and has, in the past, warranted a look from Dave Dickenson and Chris Jones. Jones loves his quarterbacks, but there may not be room on the roster for both Evans and Moniz when it comes to cut down day.

Current Depth Chart

1. Jeremiah Masoli

T-2. Johnny Manziel

T-2. Vernon Adams Jr.

T-4. Bryant Moniz

T-4. Dane Evans

Toronto Argonauts

It’s hard to get a read on the Argos’ quarterback situation, where all signs point to big-ticket acquisition James Franklin getting the second-strong job with the competition being for third-strong. However, Marc Trestman says Franklin will have to win the job, with returning prospects McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Dakota Prukop refusing to merely step aside.

One thing has been made clear: Ricky Ray is the starting quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts. Ray, turning 39 in October, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 5,546 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions while winning his fourth Grey Cup as a starter.

Whether Bethel-Thompson and Prukop are a real threat to Franklin remains to be seen, but both are intriguing prospects. Their continued development pushed Jeff Mathews out of a job this training camp, and Trestman has praised both backups after getting a good look at them throughout 2017.

In the background, Canadian quarterback and former Hec Crighton winner Noah Picton is soaking up everything he can at Argos camp. He signed with the team after going undrafted a few weeks ago, although there’s a good chance he ends up back in school with the Regina Rams for one more year of eligibility.

Current Depth Chart

1. Ricky Ray

T-2. James Franklin

T-2. McLeod Bethel-Thompson

T-2. Dakota Prukop

5. Noah Picton

Ottawa REDBLACKS

There is no contention over the No. 1 starting job in Ottawa, where Trevor Harris is ready for his second full season as ‘the guy’. Harris spent his off-season working on his mental approach to the game, and the 31-year-old has MOP potential as he comes in with 46 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions over the last two seasons.

After the luxury of having Henry Burris and Drew Tate around in recent years, the REDBLACKS will lean on a less-proven option going into 2018. Dominique Davis is getting another chance after being released by the Bombers, vying for the second-string job in Ottawa, with Danny Collins and William Arndt providing the competition.

Trevor Harris is set to enter his second season as an undisputed starter in the CFL (Chris Hofley/Ottawa REDBLACKS)

On the topic of quarterbacks, Marcel Desjardins should be thinking about a contingency plan in the event that Trevor Harris either leaves in 2019 (he has a one-year contract) or the team decides the 31-year-old isn’t the long-term answer in the nation’s capital. That means this year’s camp is of particular importance for the other three quarterbacks on Ottawa’s depth chart outside of Harris.

Current Depth Chart

1. Trevor Harris

T-2. Dominique Davis

T-2. Danny Collins

T-2. William Arndt

Montreal Alouettes

No name has been stricken from the Alouettes’ competition for the starting quarterback job, but many believe it’s down to the veteran Drew Willy and promising sophomore Matthew Shiltz. Head Coach Mike Sherman has said he’d like to make a decision quickly, but it’s hard to envision one coming before the team’s first pre-season game on May 31.

Willy would be the most logical choice for the Als, as the 31-year-old is by far the most experienced quarterback on the list and has now had a year to get acclimated with his new team. However, if Shiltz can prove that he’s ready to play in just his second CFL season, the 25-year-old has shown enough upside that some are calling him the quarterback of the future in Montreal.

Much has been made about Josh Freeman this off-season, who signed with the Alouettes after a seven-year career in the NFL. It’s not a slight on the former first-round pick that he’s not being mentioned among the top candidates to start; more a reality check that the transition to the three-down game is a difficult one, especially for a player who’s spent nearly a decade in the NFL. Freeman needs more time to get comfortable.

Not lost in the conversation are Antonio Pipkin and Garrett Fugate. Pipkin completed just two of his nine passing attempts in brief game action vs. the Ticats last year, but the 22-year-old has youth on his side and should be better-equipped to compete after getting his feet wet.

Fugate, on the other hand, is new to the team and will have really turn heads to earn a roster spot.

Current Depth Chart

T-1. Drew Willy

T-1. Matthew Shiltz

T-1. Josh Freeman

T-1. Antonio Pipkin

T-1. Garrett Fugate

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