Another off-season has come and gone. The annual draft, mini-camps and roster transactions have all been completed as teams have recently begun training camp. Some teams made clear improvements, while others lost some key players and did not. So how does your team look on paper? Today, I take a look at the Edmonton Eskimos football club.
* Denotes National Player
# Denotes 2015 Draft pick
Starter: Mike Reilly
Reserves: Matt Nichols, Jordan Lynch, James Franklin, Justin Goltz
Starter Mike Reilly has proven that he's an elite quarterback in this league, but despite that, I still don't think he's reached his ceiling yet. Reilly's mobility and quick release allow him to be effective behind a shaky offensive line, and with a few extra receivers to throw to in 2015, much is expected of the former Central Washington quarterback and his offence. Nichols, who once competed for the starting job with Reilly before breaking his leg, is not the player Reilly is but is a great insurance policy nonetheless should he get hurt.
Running backs: B+
Starters: RB John White, FB Calvin McCarty
Reserves: Shakir Bell, FB Mike Miller*, FB Harold Mutabola*
The quiet assassin, as I say, John White will have a break-out season in 2015. That's to say if his 2014 season didn't already count as one. The 5'8", 186lbs speedster averaged an absurd 6.9 yards per carry over 123 carries for 852 yards throughout his second CFL season. A few more touchdowns will help White's status; he was only able to find the endzone twice last year. Less injuries will have this Utah runner known as one of the league's best 'backs', if he is not already. The Eskimos are thin behind White, but can always move Kendial Lawrence back into the backfield if need be.
Starters: WR Nate Coehoorn*, SB Shamawd Chambers*, SB Kendial Lawrence, SB Adarius Bowman, WR Devon Bailey*
Reserves: Cory Watson*, Wallace Miles, Paris Jackson*, Kenny Stafford, Etauj Allen, Marcus Rucker, Barrett*, #Andrew Johnson*, Bryant Mitchell, Anthony Barrett*, Skye Dawson, Chad Bumphis, Denarius Appling, Derel Walker, Eric Page
The Esks have quietly assembled a very strong receiving corps in this pass-heavy league. They brought in Wallace Miles, Kenny Stafford and Cory Watson to Alberta's capital this off-season, while young Canadian pass-catchers Devon Bailey and Shamawd Chambers will have another year under their belt. Mike Reilly will have even more options to distribute the ball to after targeting the league's leading receiver in 2014 Adarius Bowman so many times throughout their first year in Stephen McAdoo's offence. A true number two pass-catcher to accompany Bowman is welcomed, though that player is probably already on he roster.
Offensive Line: C+
Starters: LT Tony Washington, LG Simeon Rottier*, C Alex Krausnick*, Greg Wojt*, RT Thaddeus Coleman
Reserves: Andrew Jones*, Brian Ramsay*, Tyson Pencer*, #Danny Groulx*, Selvish Capers, David Griffin, #David Beard*, Justin Sorensen*
Here's where the Eskimos really struggle. After not drafting an offensive lineman in the opening two rounds of the CFL draft for 4 years, the Eskimos have very little options available. The lone bright spot of the group is 2014 West Division All-Star guard Simon Rottier, but that's basically it. It doesn't appear Alex Krausnick is a serviceable centre to anchor this line, while the jury is out on aged middle-men Justin Sorenson and Brian Ramsay. Greg Wojt came over from Hamilton to replace Matt O'Donnell as the Tiger-Cats didn't see a place for the oft-injured veteran on their roster, though he could be a mediocre option. Edmonton is especially fragile when it comes to the depth behind their starters. They picked up Tyson Pencer, that says all you need to know. Fortunately, 2015 draft picks Danny Groulx and David Beard are in the system and are working to soon become saviours of this aging group.
Defensive Line: A
Starters: DE Odell Willis, DT Eddie Steele*, DT Almondo Sewell, DE Marcus Howard
Reserves: Willie Jefferson, Don Oramasionwu*, Cedric McKinley, R.J. Roberts, Gregory Alexandre*, Dawud Lane, Torrey Davis, Elie Ngoyi, Mathieu Boulay*
Without a doubt their strongest position, Edmonton's defensive line is nothing short of frightening to enemies. They have elite players in Odell Willis and Almondo Sewell, great Canadian talent in Eddie Steele and Don Oramasionwu, and a solid secondary pass-rusher in Marcus Howard. Willie Jefferson, Oramasionwu and co. provide good depth should anything happen to the starting four. The Eskimos finished second in the league last year in quarterback sacks with 55, and I expect that number to grow in 2015 in year two of Chris Jones' defence.
Starters: OLB Dexter McCoil, MLB JC Sherritt, OLB Otha Foster
Reserves: Deon Lacey, Keith Reynolds, Jestin Love, Shane Horton, Nathan Kanya, Korey Jones, Blair #Smith*, #Adam Konar*, Corbin Sharun
Outside linebacker Dexter McCoil is the only sure thing here. The young 24 year old has a knack for consistently finding the football. He also has a knack for finding the endzone. The 2014 CFL most outstanding rookie took three trips to the endzone in 2014 while also racking up 67 tackles, 4 sacks and 6 interceptions. Lining up beside him, JC Sherritt was formerly the league's best linebacker until injuries presented a large bump in the road of the 27 year olds career. The Esks are hoping Sherritts detour around that bump relays him back to being one of the top linebackers in the game as his back-up/ part-time successor, Rennie Curran, is a free agent. Otha Foster has spent time at strong side linebacker in the past but as of now, it looks like he's making the switch from cornerback. Starting 16 games in 2014, Foster proved he can tackle well, registering 46 takedowns during his first year in Edmonton. The Esks have solid depth in guys such as Deon Lacey and Shane Horton to serve as insurance policies, though Esks Nation is hoping the services of their reinforcements won't be needed in the starting lineup as Sherritt and McCoil stay healthy.
Defensive Backs: A-
Starters: CB Pat Watkins, HB Marcell Young, HB Aaron Grymes, CB Alonzo Lawrence, S Ryan Hinds*
Reserves: Scott Williams, John Ojo, Mike Debuisson*, Cauchy Muamba*, Raye Hartmann*, Deion Belue,
When you're short side cornerback doesn't register a single interception in 18 starts while being named a league All-Star, it's clear he's a shutdown guy. That's Patrick Watkins for the Eskimos, a giant 6'5" corner and consecutive three time CFL All-Star in as many years. At halfback, Aaron Grymes returns after also starting 18 games in 2014, registering 3 interceptions. A four year veteran and multiple year Eskimo, Marcell Young has started every game he's played in the Green and Gold. The most intriguing move the Eskimos have made regarding their secondary is moving Alonzo Lawrence to Otha Foster's wide side corner spot. The 6'0, 218lbs defensive back spent most of 2014 at strong side linebacker, starting 11 games. Though the team is fortunate to retain much of last years group, the Esks will be looking for Ryan Hinds to replace Chris Rwawakumba at safety after letting him sign with BC in free agency. Edmonton is building something special with Chris Jones, and continuity with his defensive backs goes a long way with the process.
Special Teams: B
Starters: K/P Grant Shaw
Reserves: Zackary Medeiros
Although he missed 9 games, Grant Shaw averaged a career best and made 85 percent of his field goal attempts as well as his third best career punting average of 44 yards per punt. Though Edmonton may benefit from having a full-time kicker, Shaw has improved that aspect of his game while his punting has been solid. Expect electric offensive-weapon Kendial Lawrence to handle the return duties. Deon Lacey will continue to be an ace on special teams as he'll enter the year as a back-up linebacker.
As expected on Chris Jones' team, the Eskimos boast a stout defence. Their secondary and defensive line are among the league's very best while their linebacking corps is no slouch either. On offence, the offensive line is still a work in progress, but it won't be their Achilles heal in 2015. Mike Reilly's legs along with John White's elusiveness and Stephen McAdoo's scheme will find ways to be successful regardless of how sketchy the protection may be.
Depth in their secondary as well as at running back and offensive line could bring up issues late in the season. The development of 1st round draft pick guard Danny Groulx would help out immensely should he be ready for game action early in the season.
This Eskimos team is going to very exciting to watch in 2015. An exciting offence mixed with a hard-hitting, quarterback-sacking, turnover-crazy defence has the makings of an entertaining, and successful CFL club.