Alouettes at Ottawa Redblacks: Five things you should know

Alouettes at Ottawa Redblacks: Five things you should know
Manziel and Pipkin play nice amid quarterback controversy
Antonio Pipkins expected to make his third consecutive start for the Als, and has provided the organization with some hope.

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Antonio Pipkin rears back to throw a pass during practice in Montreal on Aug. 22, 2018. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Here are five things you should know about the Alouettes-Ottawa Redblacks game at TD Place on Friday (7:30 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio 690).

Matchup: This game pits the East Division-leading Redblacks (6-3) against the last-place team in the division. But while the Als are 2-8, they’re actually on a one-game winning streak, having defeated Toronto at home last Friday. Montreal hasn’t won two consecutive games since the end of the 2016 season, when it won its final three games. Ottawa, meanwhile, will be well rested, having enjoyed a bye in the schedule last week. These teams are meeting for the second time in three weeks. The Redblacks required a late fourth-quarter touchdown to edge the Als 24-17 on Aug. 11.

Injuries: William Stanback ran hard and effectively in his first game as a starter last week. But he strained a hamstring and has been placed on the one-game injured list. Left-guard Phil Blake is healthy, but his wife’s expecting a baby on Friday. He has returned home, will miss the game and has been placed on the suspended list. The Redblacks’ Dan West will miss the game, but former Alouettes middle-linebacker Kyries Hebert has come off the six-game injured list early and will face his former team for the first time. He had a leg injury last time the teams met and missed the first game due to a suspension.

The QBs: Antonio Pipkin’s expected to make his third consecutive start for the Als, and has provided the organization with some hope. After passing for 217 yards in a losing cause against Edmonton, Pipkin threw for 303 against the Argonauts while scoring two short rushing touchdowns. Pipkin was thrust into the starting role after Johnny Manziel sustained a concussion against Ottawa three weeks ago. Ottawa’s Trevor Harris passed for 487 yards the last time these teams met. Through the opening half of the schedule, he’s on pace for a 5,400-yard season. Harris has thrown for 2,735 yards while completing nearly 70 per cent of his passes. However, he has passed for only 10 touchdowns in nine games. Of his six interceptions, one was returned for a touchdown — by Als linebacker Chris Ackie.

The receivers: Brad Sinopoli continues to be one of the CFL’s amazing feel-good stories. The Canadian came out of university as a quarterback, was forced to change positions and now leads the Redblacks with 775 yards, putting him in contention for the league’s most outstanding Canadian award. Greg Ellingson (583 yards) provides the team with a solid one-two combination. While the Als had three receivers produce more than 70 yards against Toronto, none is among the CFL’s top 10 — predictable, considering the offensive woes the team has experienced. B.J. Cunningham is the team leader. He has caught 39 passes for 481 yards while scoring three touchdowns.

This and that: Pipkin might get the start, but all eyes will be cast toward Manziel, who cleared concussion protocol and will dress for the first time since Aug. 11. Should Pipkin falter or struggle, Als head coach Mike Sherman might waste little time making a quarterback switch. … The injury to Stanback potentially means Canadian draft choice Ryder Stone will start at tailback. … Trey Rutherford, the Als’ first-round (second overall) draft pick this year is expected to start for the absent Blake. … Montreal hasn’t defeated Ottawa since Aug. 19, 2016, and the Redblacks have 10 wins in their last 11 games against the Als.

While they are rivals for the starting quarterback position on the Montreal Alouettes, there is no ill-will between Johnny Manziel and Antonio Pipkin.

The two trained together at the George Whitfield quarterback academy in San Diego before they became teammates this season in Montreal.

“We’ve known each other, we’ve hung out before,” Pipkin said Wednesday. “He’s a good guy and you just want see everybody succeed.

That said, Pipkin looks to be getting a third straight start Friday night in Ottawa even though Manziel is out of concussion protocol. Coach Mike Sherman never says definitively which quarterback will start, but Pipkin has taken the lion’s share of snaps with the starters this week.

Manziel, who returned to practice after sitting out two games, was cleared to come off protocol on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m easing my way back in, slowly but surely,” said Manziel. “I won’t go into a ton of detail about it but I started to feel more normal towards the beginning of last week, and once you feel normal is when you really start the protocol stuff.

“They told me early last week it was looking unlikely I would be able to play. I know I wanted to. I’ve never missed two weeks in the past when I’ve had a concussion. So this has been a longer, slower process for me than I’m accustomed to and I think it’s definitely been frustrating. I want to play and I’m itching and eager to get back but we’ll see how things play out.”

The Alouettes sent two veterans and a pair of first round draft picks to Hamilton for Manziel on July 23, looking to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Brown to stop the revolving door at their quarterback position. He made two starts, both losses, and took a heavy hit to the head while trying to score a touchdown.

While he finished the game, he was placed under concussion protocol a few days later, feeling no bitterness toward the Redblack who hit him, cornerback Jonathan Rose.

“It was a good hit,” said Manziel. “It was unfortunate I had to miss two games because of it.

“It’s easy to sit back and look at the film and say I should have slid at the one-yard line but I’ve played football my entire life and come across a lot of situations like that and it hasn’t played out like that before.”

In Manziel’s absence, Pipkin stepped in and gave 2-8 Montreal perhaps its best quarterbacking of the season. Last week the Tiffin University product passed for 303 yards as Montreal beat Toronto 25-22 to end a six-game losing run.

It was a surprise for many. Pipkin spent last season with the Alouettes but got into only the final game of the season. He was released in June and called back Aug. 6 only when a string of Montreal pivots fell injured.

“Me and Pip have known each other for a while,” said Manziel. “I thought the last two weeks he handled himself well and played well.

“We needed a win last week and we got one, so I’m proud of him. It’s fun to have him around.”

Pipkin was at the Whitfield academy in 2016 preparing for his draft year. Manziel was there to sharpen his game and try to get back into football after a disastrous two seasons in Cleveland. He got his chance when Hamilton signed him in the spring, but he never got into a game for the Tiger-Cats.

The Alouettes invested heavily in Manziel and it would not be surprising if, at some point, he’s back in the starting job. After the Ottawa game, they have a bye week before facing the B.C. Lions at home on Sept 14. That’s when the tough decision comes, and whether pressure comes from upper management to give Manziel the ball.

“I haven’t felt that pressure from anybody,” said Sherman. “My pressure is to play the right quarterback to help us win the game.

“That’s the only pressure I ever feel. John’s healthy right now and that’s a good thing. And Pip had a good game last week. I’m really happy with his performance. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”

And Pipkin said he’s not going into games feeling that he is on a short leash – that one bad quarter will lead to getting pulled in favour of Manziel.

“I’m just ready to go have fun and try to win another game,” he said. “I think anything that comes from a short leash or anything like that is just outside pressure that’s trying to create some kind of controversy.”