Wide-eyed and uncertain in the middle of a dark highway filled with speeding semi-trailers, Joey Elliott managed to escape with his life.
Saturday night, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playoff hopes on the line, the first-year quarterback with zero CFL experience was forced into the game against the Toronto Argonauts. His numbers were OK (8-of-16 for 75 yards and a pick), but what many observers circled as the silver lining in the disappointing loss was the way the youngster moved the football against a tricky Argos defence.
"Deer in the headlights a little bit, but I thought I got comfortable as the game went on," was Elliott's self-evaluation after practice at the Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex Tuesday afternoon. "I said 'Well, no one else is going in -- I don't see another quarterback on the sideline.' So I had to build some confidence pretty quick."
Short on experience and long on confidence: That might be the best scouting report on the Bombers quarterback as he prepares to make his first CFL start in Edmonton Saturday night. The 24-year-old came to Manitoba in July with the understanding his Canadian football education would be a slow, methodical process consisting of lots of watching and little to no playing time. That has changed.
"It's a confidence thing," he said of heading into the most important phase of his professional career. "There's a fine line between cocky and confident but (the players around me) make me confident, not cocky. (They) are going to have to get used to a different voice in the huddle."
And the coaches are confident he can handle the pressure.
"I joke with the staff that Joey feels like he knows the name of the 'Unknown Soldier' -- he feels like he has all the answers," said offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi.
"He looks to be a pretty good leader... I don't think I've come across someone who at this stage is so sure of his ability. It will be very interesting to watch him these next couple weeks."
For those scoring at home, Elliott is scheduled to be starting quarterback No. 4 this season, provided that between now and Saturday he can avoid walking under the same ladders or knocking over the same salt shaker that the other pivots -- Buck Pierce, Steven Jyles and Alex Brink -- have this year.
It's almost unheard of for a raw rookie to be pressed into a starting role after three pivots ahead of him go down to injury, but as strange as that path is, it doesn't cloud the fact this could be Elliott's chance to cement his position on Maroons Road next year.
Like it or not, Training Camp 2011 has officially begun in Winnipeg, folks, and the Purdue grad is presented with a glorious opportunity to move up the QB depth chart. Say the Bombers keep the status quo for next year, with Pierce, Jyles, Brink, and Elliott all returning. A good showing by Elliott not only puts him on par with Brink, but it also could force the Bombers brass to make a decision on the top two guys -- two players who are coming off injuries to their throwing arm/shoulders.
"I was hoping to get a chance," Elliott said. "You come up here; you want to compete as a quarterback.
BOMBER NOTES C7
The file on
Born: Aug. 2, 1986 in Evansville, Indiana
-- Served as the Boilermakers back-up for three seasons before starting his senior year.
-- Completed 267 of 433 passes for 3,026 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season.
-- Led the Boilermakers to a 26-18 win over No. 7-ranked Ohio State. In that game, Elliott went 31-of-50 for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
-- Undrafted, he signed on with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent and was released in June; Signed with the Bombers July 20.
"Joey thinks outside the box. Some guys just stay exactly within what your system is; he's got some different ideas and he's not afraid to speak his mind. He's got a confidence to him. The thing I like about him: He makes a decision with the football and throws it."
-- Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice