Canadian Football League News
2007 CFL Western Preview - Edmonton Eskimos
By Fred Williams Jun 27, 2007, 15:35 GMT
After winning the Grey Cup in 2005, the Eskimos finished last in the West Division last season to miss the CFL playoffs for the first time in 35 years. Not surprisingly, the offseason was one full of changes. With the retirement of president Hugh Campbell, head coach Danny Maciocia was also given the title of director of football operations and the immense responsibility of re- tooling the Eskimos roster.
It's a job Maciocia didn't take lightly, as prior to training camp such veterans as linebacker Singor Mobley, running back Troy Davis, defensive backs Donnie Brady and Malcolm Frank and receiver Ed Hervey were either let go or retired in the offseason. The purge continued at the final cutdown when receiver Derrell Mitchell, a 10-year CFL veteran who had helped the club win its championship in 2005, was cut.
There will be no change, though, at quarterback as Ricky Ray, who threw for a league-high 5,000 yards last year, remains the starter. However, it might take Ray and Co. a little time to gel as the Eskimos will have a new offensive gameplan this year under new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine, who helped the B.C. Lions win the Grey Cup last year as the club's offensive coordinator.
At first glance, one might question why Chapdelaine would choose to leave a Lions team that could easily repeat as CFL champion for an Edmonton team that last year finished last in the West? The truth is Chapdelaine has his eye on one day becoming a CFL head coach, and he figured with Wally Buono firmly entrenched in B.C., he didn't see an opportunity for that to happen in Vancouver.
Not that Maciocia has designs on leaving the sidelines soon. However, it was more reasonable for Chapdelaine to assume that Maciocia would be more apt to leave coaching to concentrate on heading up the Eskimos football operations department than Buono doing so in B.C. And there should be no questioning Chapdelaine's coaching success. A former CFL receiver with four teams during a seven-year career, Chapdelaine has won a Vanier Cup (Canadian college title) as a coach in '99 with Laval and captured two Grey Cup titles (2001 with Calgary and last year with B.C.).
Under Chapdelaine last year, B.C. led the CFL in passing (292 yards per game), scoring (27 points per game), touchdowns passing (36), most plays from scrimmage (1,461), passing percentage (68.3 percent) and had a league-low 15 interceptions.
About the only blemish against the Lions offense last year was that it allowed a league-high 56 sacks.
Third-year Eskimo Ron McClendon will get the nod at tailback despite being injured during camp. However, McClendon, nicknamed Goldie because of his gold front tooth, showed enough to make free agent signee Josh Ranek, a former 1,000-yard runner with the Ottawa Renegades, expendable.
Former NFL star Jason Tucker tops an Eskimos receiving corps that includes veteran Kamau Peterson, obtained in the offseason from the Hamilton Tiger- Cats. Youngsters Andrew Nowacki and Trevor Gaylor also return. The Eskimos' offensive line received a huge boost when center Kevin Lefsrud decided to end a one-year retirement and return to the club.
Lefsrud's presence should prove beneficial to youngsters like Patrick Kabongo and Joe McGrath and also combine with other proven veterans Tim Bakker and Dan Comiskey to solidify Edmonton's front.
Defensively, the Eskimos also welcomed the return of end Rahim Abdullah, who signed as a free agent. He should strengthen a front line that includes fellow end Adam Braidwood as well as tackles Robert Brown and Ron Warner, formerly of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Eskimos will miss middle linebacker A.J. Gass, who is expected to miss 4- to-6 weeks with a knee injury. Former Minnesota Viking Antico Dalton starts in Gass's place, with former NFL players Siddeeq Shabazz and Ray Perryman seeing time at linebacker.
Cornerback Omarr Morgan, a former CFL all-star and regarded as one of the league's top cover men, signed with Edmonton as a free agent in the offseason and immediately improved the club's secondary. But the Eskimos didn't stop there, also landing defensive backs Jason Goss and Stanford Samuels to go with returnees Shannon Garrett and J.R. Larose.
Sports Network predicted finish: Third.
© 2007 The Sports Network