LIVE STREAM: CFL Preseason – Toronto Argonauts @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Friday June 1 7:30p (1:30a June 2 CEST)

It’s hard to imagine any backup quarterback has ever gotten as much hype as Johnny Manziel.

The Ticats’ second-string pivot will be the center of attention on Friday night, when Hamilton welcomes the Toronto Argonauts to Tim Hortons Field in the second week of pre-season action. Manziel is set to take his first snaps in the CFL, nearly two weeks after signing with the team and ending over a year of speculation.

For one of the most celebrated stars college football has ever seen, the return to professional football has been a long time coming.

“It’s going to be fun just getting back out on the field,” said Manziel, who, outside of two games in The Spring League, last played a down of pro football in 2015 with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. “I’m excited from a personal standpoint just to get back, take some snaps and run around.”

While the Argos and their head coach Marc Trestman will sit the majority of their starters, including the league’s fourth all-time passer in Ricky Ray, the Ticats will have most of their regulars on the field when they kick off on Friday night.

Those who bought a ticket to see Manziel — the game is reportedly close to being a sellout — will have to wait at least a little bit, as Head Coach June Jones plans to play starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli enough to get the veteran comfortable and ready for the start of the season.

Vernon Adams Jr. will not suit up for the Ticats after missing the first half of the week with an injury, while Dane Evans and Bryant Moniz will get a look later in the game.

Jones said it’s nothing in particular he’s looking for from Masoli, who the sophomore head coach says has already locked up the starting job Week 1 in Calgary.

“Masoli’s going to play until I feel good about it, then the rest of the game will be whatever I decide and we’ll flip a coin to decide who goes in third and fourth,” said Jones. “I probably don’t need to see anything. I’ve seen enough in practice and saw enough of him last year. I just want him to get in rhythm and the first group to have some confidence in this game.”

The change to Jones and Masoli on Labour Day was drastic for the Ticats, but had the desired outcome as the team bounced back from an 0-8 start with a 6-4 finish. Considering no team has enjoyed as much continuity this off-season as Hamilton, Jones and General Manager Eric Tillman are hoping to re-capture some of that same late-season magic.

On Friday night, much of the Ticats’ lineup will resemble the one that closed out last year on a winning note, including Brandon Banks, Jeremiah Masoli and Luke Tasker.

Running back Alex Green, who’s on the team’s suspended list, will not play, while defensive end Adrian Tracy, defensive tackle Justin Vaughn, offensive tackle Ryker Mathews and corner Demond Washington are other key notables.

Jumal Rolle who just turned 28, is fighting for a starting job in the secondary, but other than that there are few openings on an experienced Ticats defense with plenty of returning starters.

Friday’s game will provide the first opportunity for new defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville to put his players and scheme to the test. Glanville is in the three-down game for the first time, but has a strong rapport with the head coach in Jones. Friday also marks the return of Orlondo Steinauer, who’s back at Tim Hortons Field for the first time since leaving to coach Fresno State after the 2016 season.

While the spotlight is brighter than usual for an early-June pre-season tilt, the Argos won’t be distracted by all the Manziel talk heading into their first live action since winning the Grey Cup last November. Many of the players listed on Friday’s depth chart face long odds to make the team, and will have to stand out both on offence/defense as well as special teams.

It’s hard to spot a projected starter in the Argos’ lineup, including under centre where Marc Trestman says McLeod Bethel-Thompson will start and be followed eventually by James Franklin and Dakota Prukop. If time permits, and depending on the flow of the game, Canadian quarterback Noah Picton could also get to play.

Franklin and Bethel-Thompson are locked in a heated battle for the second-string job, with Franklin expected to get the start in the pre-season’s final week.

“We’ve got a very competitive situation going for No. 2 and 3 right now,” said Trestman. “Dakota is a valued member of our team special teams-wise. When it comes down to next week, we’ll see what happens. The only thing I can tell you right now is we know for sure we have a competition going for No. 2 and No. 3, the guys are both playing very well.”

While the Argos’ depth chart is almost unrecognizable to many, one potential starter will line up at defensive end in recently-signed veteran Frank Beltre. Beltre, who won a Grey Cup with the Stamps in 2014, is back in the league after spending a season with the NFL’s New York Jets.

The 28-year-old is expected to fill the void left by Victor Butler, who’s retired after recording 10 sacks in 2017.

“I want to start from scratch,” said Beltre. “It was a rough year for me. I just wanted to come back to what made me happy because being in the CFL I was happy, and what better place to start than Toronto? I’m very excited because the last time I played a game was last pre-season, an NFL pre-season game.”

Another intriguing position battle to unfold throughout pre-season for the Argos is at kicker, where Swayze Waters goes up against Canadian Ronnie Pfeffer. The two former Argos are back with the team and being given the chance to fill in for the departed Lirim Hajrullahu, who will kick for the opposing Ticats on Friday night.

– With files from Ticats.ca/Argonauts.ca

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2017 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: CFL Preseason Toronto Argonauts @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Friday June 1 7:30p (1:30a June 2 CEST)

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