O’Leary: Evans hits his first bump in the road

It was a brief, passing moment (aptly) between a pair of quarterbacks at the end of the game that may have slipped by those watching on TV.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson tracked down Caleb Evans on the field after the Argos had rolled to a convincing 35-16 win over the REDBLACKS. The two chatted briefly and went their separate ways.

“It’s just impressive what he’s doing. It’s not an easy league to adjust to. He showed a lot of poise out there,” Bethel-Thompson told TSN’s Matthew Scianitti.

“Sometimes when you’re early in this league you can concentrate on the bad and you can get down yourself. I told him he’s a good player and to concentrate on the good and to build on that.”

In just his second CFL start, the words of encouragement likely hit home for Evans, who made 23 of 41 passes on Wednesday night for 334 yards with three interceptions. Those picks all came in a game-breaking third quarter, that saw the Argos score a pair of pick-six TDs.

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“I felt like I made too many mistakes for us to win, plain and simple,” Evans told reporters after the game.

“(Just) missing everything. (It wasn’t) really things we didn’t see, it was just football. I made mistakes where I just should have held some and taken the sack but I made the throw. I’ve got to get better.”

After leading Ottawa to a win with a sensational three-touchdown Week 9 debut against Edmonton, Evans earned himself a second start. What may have been lost in the leadup to that second game is that the rookie was going up against a Chris Jones-influenced defence, which is something that the most veteran pivots across the league have struggled against for over a decade.

Any team is asking a lot when it turns to a rookie QB to make a start and it’s something that we’ve managed to see multiple times this season. Calgary’s Jake Maier has fared the best at it thus far. Edmonton’s Taylor Cornelius was put in a difficult situation in Week 7 when he had to get his first start in place of an injured Trevor Harris against Winnipeg and its QB-devouring defence.

Evans was arguably in just as difficult a situation on Wednesday in Toronto.

“One of the interceptions, he didn’t grab the ball quickly. It was a tipped ball,” REDBLACKS coach Paul LaPolice told reporters after the game.

“Let’s put it this way: He didn’t throw it to the wrong person, it got tipped. The second one he’s got to make sure. It’s hard to flip your eyes and if you don’t see the picture clean you can’t throw it. He didn’t see the last one in the blitz period.

“We’ve got to keep coaching him and putting him in different pictures. He moved the ball well at times and those are, as we tell the quarterbacks, you get measured on just two or three difficult plays, that’s it.”

While the third quarter felt like the bottom fell out for the REDBLACKS, who led 9-8 at the half, Evans will get the chance to make up for things in short order. The team travels to Montreal on Monday for a Thanksgiving meeting with the Alouettes. LaPolice told Ottawa’s TSN 1200 on Thursday morning that Evans would get the start.

“Oh yes,” he said when asked about the starting gig.

“Certainly with a short week and there are other things we can do to help him. We can run the ball better, but we certainly want to give him more opportunities.”

It’s no easy task, flushing that loss, learning from those mistakes and getting ready for a new opponent four days from now. No matter how hard Evans works, the games where he’s given the keys to LaPolice’s offence for the rest of this season won’t be without its share of hardships. Rookies need to learn, adapt and grow as fast as possible; especially when they’re quarterbacks.

“I’ve just got to learn from it,” Evans said.

“Like I’ve always said before, never get too high, never get too low. Stuff like this happens in football, it’s all about how you come back, learn from it and get better. That’s what I plan on doing, to make things like this never happen again.”

Evans has the right attitude and if the REDBLACKS can stay patient with him through some ups and downs — in a season that’s already been full of them for the team — they could be rewarded with their QB of the future materializing in front of them.

“I’m ready to get back on the field,” Evans said. “I have to learn from it and get better.”

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