Sunday, 21 December 2014
Eskimos Ready for Next Season
One year after finishing with an abysmal 4-14 record, the Edmonton Eskimos found their identity in 2014 under new head coach Chris Jones. Jones’ Eskimos leap-frogged six CFL teams in the standings, en route to a 12-6 record and a second-place finish in the West Division. Quarterback Mike Reilly’s team finally caught up to his talent, finishing first in numerous categories and taking some pressure off the second-year starter. With Reilly playing with a foot injury, the Eskimos lost to Calgary in the West Division Final, ending their season one game shy of the Grey Cup. Jones and Reilly are primed to take the next step in 2015 and look ready to knock off the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders and get the Eskimos back to the big game for the first time since 2005.
The Eskimos don’t need to bring in any big name players or high profile coaches this offseason; all they require is another year of experience together. Edmonton hired eight new coaches last winter, including Jones, who in addition to being the team’s head coach also served as the team’s defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo. Jones’ and McAdoo’s systems maximized Edmonton’s talents; taking advantage of Mike Reilly’s dual threat traits and their ferocious pass rush on defence. As a result, the green and gold finished No. 1 in total offense, total defence and passing yards allowed. With few key free agents on the market, other CFL teams have to be frightened of what this team can accomplish in their second year in these systems.
Edmonton has very few soft spots on their team on either side of the ball; however, some positions are slightly weaker than others. At receiver, the Eskies lack a consistent number two receiver next to Adarius Bowman. In 2014, Nate Coehoorn finished second in receiving on Edmonton and 30th in the CFL with only 483 yards and three touchdowns. While the list of free agent receivers isn’t super exciting, there are a few that have the potential to take off next season. Hamilton’s Samuel Giguère has yet to live up to the huge expectations heaped upon him when he arrived in the CFL in 2012, but has the potential to chip in 600-700 yards, which would be a solid amount if Adarius Bowman has another 1,000-yard season.
Ottawa’s Wallace Miles is also another intriguing target for Edmonton, but does suffer from inconsistency. Miles has games where he catches two touchdowns, but may have also dropped two or three passes somewhere in between. Miles may excel in a reduced role behind Bowman, and possibly Giguère, with less pressure on him.
Although Edmonton’s apparent “mediocre” offensive line helped them rank as the CFL’s third-best rushing team, they can still use some depth players. Winnipeg right tackle Devin Tyler stepped in for a handful of games late in the season and played decently, but may not be brought back with an up-and-coming offensive line next year.
Another possible depth signing could be Saskatchewan’s Sam Hurl. Hurl would fit in behind starting middle linebacker JC Sherritt, who has struggled to stay healthy the past couple of season. Other than player re-signings, Edmonton may only be signing depth players this offseason.
The one thing that can stall an up-and-coming team from taking the next step are players leaving for more money or better opportunities after having a chance to start on a once rebuilding team. Fortunately for Esks general manager Ed Hervey, that is not an issue because Edmonton is now seen as a destination spot.
Highlighting the list of the team’s potential free agents is defensive end Odell Willis. Willis is unlikely to leave Edmonton as they seem to be the only team he hasn’t had issues with his ego. An ego, however, that you deal with when a player notches 13 sacks (like Willis did last year, tying his single-season high).
Another key free agent is kick returner and running back Kendial Lawrence. Lawrence seemed to always find a way to make an impact, whether he was catching screen passes or returning kicks. Lawrence should return to Edmonton after getting plenty of touches on a good team last year.
Another defensive lineman, Don Oramasionwu, should be brought back as two Canadian defensive tackles (Oramasionwu and Eddie Steele) that can start is a huge plus for any team. The rest of Edmontons's free agents are filler players that can easily be replaced if desired.
Whether they needed to rely on the defence, run game or on Mike Reilly's right arm, the Eskimos found ways to win when the team was healthy. Another year under McAdoo and Jones will help the Eskimos get their revenge on Calgary on Labour Day and, ultimately, in the Western Final. Hervey can lay low this off-season; his Eskimos are already prepped and ready to take that next step in 2015.