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Edmonton Eskimos

Division: WestGM: Ed HerveyHead Coach: Kavis Reed
2012: 7-11 (4th in West)vs. division 3-7
Points23.4 (7th)
Yards339.7 (7th)
Pass Yards268.9 (6th)
Rush Yards94.4 (6th)

Eskimos move forward under new GM Ed Hervey

Quarterback Competition

The biggest question for the Eskimos entering the season is: who will start at quarterback?

Yes, the Edmonton Eskimos made the playoffs last season, but that doesn't change the fact that 2012 was a disappointing year in the City of Champions.

Prior to the season, the Eskimos made a major splash when former general manager Eric Tillman traded Ricky Ray, a name synonymous with the Eskimos and quarterbacking excellence for nearly a decade, to the Toronto Argonauts.

That move would define the Eskimos season as Ray's replacements, Steven Jyles, Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols struggled to get the offence going and the team fumbled their way to a 7-11 record, last in the West division.

Despite their struggles, the Eskimos got into the playoffs thanks to the CFL's crossover rule and a weak bottom half of the East division. However, they were promptly knocked out by Ray and his Argos in the East Semifinal. Ray and the Argos of course went on to win the 100th Grey Cup.

The Ray trade ultimately cost Eric Tillman his job as he was let go prior to the playoff loss to Toronto.

Tillman was replaced during the off-season by Ed Hervey, who had served as the Eskimos head scout for four seasons after a distinguished CFL career as a player.

"I'm excited for the challenge but humbled by the opportunity," the 39-year-old Hervey told reporters at his introductory news conference. "This is not about me. This is about the Edmonton Eskimos, this is about our team ... our direction. Our direction is simple. We want to win. We will win because that's what we are.

Hervey has been a busy man since taking the reins making several moves during the off-season in the hopes of achieving those goals.

Pivotal Position

Probably the biggest move Hervey made during the off-season was acquiring former Lions backup quarterback Mike Reilly from B.C. to compete with Matt Nichols for the team's starting job this season.

Quarterbacking was a major issue for the team last season and Hervey hopes that whoever wins the starting job this season will represent an improvement on last year's production.

"We felt by obtaining Mike Reilly it would give us depth at that position which has (also) now created, in our opinion, a fine quarterback battle between he and Matt Nichols," Hervey said.

Nichols showed starter's potential late last season, completing just under 58 percent of his passes for 884 yards and seven touchdowns against just three interceptions before going down with an ankle injury the playoff loss to Toronto.

Reilly meanwhile is hoping that a few seasons learning under Travis Lulay are enough for him to make the jump to starting status. He went 1-1 as a starter, looking poised and accurate completing 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception in those games.

The battle appeared to be very close until Nichols suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team's first pre-season game against Saskatchewan.

Quarterback isn't the only place the Eskimos have made changes on offence either.

Much of the team's offensive success could come down to the team's revamped offensive line which has had its struggles in the pres-season. The team got some bad news on the opening day of training camp as their Most Outstanding Lineman from a year ago, Orrin Thompson, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Add in the loss of centre Kyle Koch who was released on the eve of training camp and the Eskimos front five will have a very different look this year.

Veteran Gord Hinse looks likely to replace Koch in the middle. Simeon Rottier looks to be shifting from left to right guard this season while third-year Eskimo Scott Mitchell will start at left guard. At the tackle spots it looks like rookie Cliff Louis has the inside track to start on the left side while Matt O'Donnell will start on the right.

New offensive coordinator Doug Sams will have his work cut out for him getting the line to gel, but he'll have to do so or else it won't matter who is under centre for the Eskimos.

At running back, Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam are both out of the picture leaving explosive scatback Hugh Charles as the team's go-to option in the backfield. Edmonton also signed import John White whom the team hopes can maintain the same style of ground game should Charles be injured again.

At receiver, familiar faces Fred Stamps and Cary Koch look to be the go-to targets. Other receivers who will compete for looks include Shamawd Chambers, Adarius Bowman, Marcus Henry, Ismael Bamba and Nate Coehoorn.

Stefan Charles

Analysis: The Eskimos top pick Stefan Charles is unlikely to be joining the team any time soon after signing a deal with the NFL's Tennessee Titans that included a signing bonus. If he does end up back in Canada he could have a major impact for the Eskimos thanks to his tremendous power. While Charles may not be in Edmonton any time soon the team did sign the rest of their 2013 class. 6th-round pick Elie Ngoyi could end up being a major steal as a big time special teams player thanks to his great strength and athleticism. Offensive line prospects Chris Mercer and Taylor Servais also have the physical tools to make it in the pros. Mercer in particular showed well at the CFL combine. Kyle Norris and Jorgen Hus will also compete for special teams duties.

Rd. Pick Player Pos School
2 10th overall Stefan Charles DT Regina
3 24th overall Kyle Norris LB Saint Mary's
3 26th overall Christopher Mercer OL Regina
4 31st overall Jorgen Hus LB Regina
4 34th overall Taylor Servais OL Ottawa
6 51st overall Elie Ngoyi DE Bishop's
7 55th overall Smith Wright FB Alberta

Fresh Start for Willis

Added Swagger

Odell Willis should bring some bite to the Eskimos pass rush.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eskimos' biggest acquisition this off-season is the former self-styled Mayor of Swaggerville O'Dell Willis.

The sack specialist with a huge personality who played for Saskatchewan last season was signed by Edmonton just three minutes after the CFL free agency period began, earning the Eskimos a $10,000 fine for tampering.

That extra price tag could be well worth it though if Willis can rein in the penalties and off-field troubles and stay focused on the task of pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

In four CFL seasons, Willis has racked up 40 sacks but has also had a penchant for rubbing his coaches the wrong way and wearing out his welcome. He is hoping to put that behind him with the Eskimos.

"Sports is one of the things you can get a clean slate at in life,'' Willis told reporters during training camp. "So we're just ready to start clean, start fresh, new team, new look. Give this city something to smile about and be proud of.''

06
Unproven quarterbacks make the Eskimos a wild card this season.

The addition of Willis to a group that includes Marcus Howard, Don Oramasionwu, and 2012 West All-Stars Ted Laurent and Almodo Sewell, should give the Eskimos one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the CFL.

Elsewhere on defence, the re-signing of J.C. Sherritt was very important to the linebacking corps. Sherritt set a CFL record with 130 tackles last season and was named the league's top defensive player.

Chris Thompson was also resigned and will provide a veteran, ballhawking presence in the Eskimos secondary.

DEPTH CHARTS

OFFENCE

DEFENCE

LT

Coleman
Cody

LG

O'Donell
Mercer

C

Hinse
Ramsay

RG

Rottier
Rockhill
Servais

RT

Louis
Curry

WR1

Chambers
Gant

SB1

Wallace
Pierre

SB2

Koch
Lewis

WR2

Coehoorn
Sweeney

QB

Reilly
Crompton
Joseph
Harris

RB

Charles
White
Lampley

FB

McCarty
Haenni
Wright

Special Teams: P/K (Shaw, Silva), LS (Benson, O'Donnell), KR (Lewis, Lampley)

Depth Chart is for pre-season game against BC (6/21)

Expert Analysis
Chris Schultz: Hervey and Reed are running the show in Edmonton

I am not sure what the correct word to use to describe the feeling I get as training camp continues in Edmonton. Urgency? Attitude? Focus? And may I dare say anger? This is the beginning of the Kavis Reed, Ed Hervey era in Edmonton, and it sure seems that they are the bosses and that is it.

Matt Dunigan: Eskimos had great plan with Reilly and Nichols

The Esks had a terrific plan heading into training camp, pitting the newly acquired, highly touted Mike Reilly against the talented Matt Nichols. This would ensure the club some fabulous competition in hopes of finding the next franchise QB. With Nichols now injured, you would think this is now Reilly's team.

WK AGAINST DATE WK AGAINST DATE
1 vs June 29, 3:30pm et/12:30pm pt 11 vs Sep 6, 9pm et/6pm pt
2 @ July 7, 5pm et/2pm pt 12 vs Sep 14, 6:30pm et/3:30pm pt
3 vs July 13, 9:30pm et/6:30pm pt 13 @ Sep 20, 8pm et/5pm pt
4 @ July 20, 10pm et/7pm pt 14 vs Sep 28, 9pm et/6pm pt
5 @ July 25, 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt 15 vs Oct 5, 3:30pm et/12:30pm pt
6 vs Aug 2, 9pm et/6pm pt 16 @ Oct 12, 4:30pm et/1:30pm pt
7 BYE WEEK 17 vs Oct 18, 9pm et/6pm pt
8 @ Aug 18, 7pm et/4pm pt 18 @ Oct 25, 10pm et/7pm pt
9 vs Aug 24, 4pm et/1pm pt 19 @ Nov 2, 5pm et/2pm pt
10 @ Sep 2, 5pm et/2pm pt  

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