EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos made great strides last season, improving from a disastrous 4-14 in 2013 to a much more respectable 12-6 under new head coach Chris Jones.
With very few changes to the roster and stability in the coaching ranks, the team hopes to take further steps forward in 2015.
“They know who their coaches are and what to expect at practice,” said Jones, who received a contract extension at the start of training camp. “We expect to win every football game, that’s how we approach it. Some people may say that’s not realistic, not reality, but we expect to win every single football game. We know we are going to be competitive. We know we are going to play hard. We expect to be very competitive week in and week out.”
There are a few changes. Fred Stamps was dealt to Montreal for fellow receiver Kenny Stafford and the offensive line will look a different with Matt O’Donnell signing with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and Simeon Rottier injured. Coming back to the fold as free agents are former Eskimos linemen Greg Wojt (Hamilton) and Alexander Krausnick (Ottawa).
Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly said that while a few tweaks have been made by general manage Ed Hervey, the stability in the lineup makes the Eskimos much better on paper for the 2015 season.
“We didn’t lose key pieces from last year’s team,” he said. “We still have a big core from last year and we have brought in guys to supplement that and fill the needs that we found out that we had last year. You always want this season to be better than the one before and that having that extra year under your belt will help you play smarter, faster and better.
“We had a pretty young team last year and all of those guys are back. The veteran guys that we do have are young for veterans. I think we are going to progress and get better. Last year wasn’t good enough. We have to get better. I think we do have a better team, but it remains to be seen.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark for Edmonton is at running back, with John White going down in pre-season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon that will keep him out for the entire year.
The Eskimos will hope to fill the void with former Winnipeg running back Chad Simpson and rookie Shakir Bell, who is starting the season on the practice roster.
“It’s a huge loss,” Reilly said. “But he’s not coming back this season and there is nothing we can do about that. The guys who have come in, we feel really good about. I’m really happy with where Chad (Simpson) is at physically and will be ready to go for the beginning of the season. Shakir Bell still has a lot to learn as any other rookie would, but I do think he will help our team win some games this year.”
Reilly is coming off a late-season foot injury that he gamely attempted to play on in last year’s Western Final loss to Calgary.
While he only played one series in the Eskimos’ two pre-season victories, the Edmonton quarterback said he is feeling just fine.
“I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel in shape. I’m ready to go,” he said.
The Eskimos begin the season on Saturday, June 27 against the Ricky Ray-less Toronto Argonauts in what is officially a road game, despite the match-up being played in Fort McMurray in northern Alberta.