Clock ticking on players

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

Sitting through a CFL pre-season game can be awfully painful at times.

Key starters don't play, rookies stumble their way through executing plays and the atmosphere in the stadium isn't exactly electric.

But when the Edmonton Eskimos tangle with the Calgary Stampeders tonight at McMahon Stadium (7 p.m., CHED), the coaching staffs on either sideline will be closely watching a few key positions.

For many players on the field, this is make or break time. A CFL career starts tonight or it ends.

With only two pre-season games on the schedule and 70 players still in the Eskimos camp, tonight's first exhibition contest will be the last for several players.

For the Green and Gold, there are four key battles to follow tonight.

1. Left tackle

Garrick Jones vs. Calvin Armstrong for the starting job.

Jones is a four-year CFL veteran who the Esks grabbed in the free-agent market.

Armstrong is a CFL rookie.

Jones is the leading candidate for the job, spending the most time taking first-string reps through 12 days of training camp.

But Jones is three years older (29), likely more expensive and has battled the injury bug through camp.

Armstrong played 12 NFL pre-season games and actually dressed for three regular-season games with Philadelphia.

Surely making close to the CFL minimum of $40,000 as a rookie, Armstrong can play tackle and back-up at guard.

Edmonton is not in a pinch when it comes to staying under the salary cap, so money won't play a factor in this decision. But this is a key battle because this is the last line of defence on Ricky Ray's blindside.

The remaining starting positions on the offensive line seem set, with four non-imports looking safe: Dan Comiskey, John Comiskey, Patrick Kabongo and Joe McGrath.

Jones and Armstrong are imports.

2. Special teams returner

Tristan Jackson vs. Keith Stokes.

Stokes is the established CFLer while Jackson is the rookie in camp.

Jackson is very intriguing. He had three punt returns for touchdowns in college (Central Arkansas) last year and was scouted by two NFL teams - N.Y. Giants and Carolina Panthers - as a returner.

At five-foot-seven, he was deemed too small and too slow for the NFL game, but had a return touchdown in last Saturday's scrimmage in Spruce Grove.

Edmonton hasn't had a return touchdown since 2005. This is a critical position for the club.

3. Starting cornerback

Jackson vs. Jonte Buhl.

Again, Jackson is competing against a veteran in Buhl.

Listening through camp, Jackson has been receiving more praise and hype - but what matters is tonight on the field. Jordan Younger has the other cornerback spot nailed down.

4. Field goal duty

Noel Prefontaine vs. Warren Kean.

Kean will have to be very good tonight and in the other pre-season game (June 19) to take this job.

The small 42-man playing roster means the Esks would ideally like to have one person handle all three kicking chores - just like every team in the league would want.

But Kean doesn't lack confidence entering his second season here. He's not cocky, but he handles himself with poise on and off the field.


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