Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Matt Nichols throws a pass during second half CFL football action against the Montreal Alouettes in Montreal

Nichols to start in exhibition opener for Eskimos

EDMONTON — Matt Nichols was named the Edmonton Eskimos’ starting quarterback for Friday’s pre-season game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but head coach Kavis Reed cautioned against reading too much into it. Reed said the decision to start Nichols ahead of Mike Reilly, while not publicly announced until Thursday, had been made weeks ago for a number of reasons.

EDMONTON — Matt Nichols was named the Edmonton Eskimos’ starting quarterback for Friday’s pre-season game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but head coach Kavis Reed cautioned against reading too much into it.

Reed said the decision to start Nichols ahead of Mike Reilly, while not publicly announced until Thursday, had been made weeks ago for a number of reasons.

“Obviously we’re going to give Mike a start in B.C.,” he said, adding he wouldn’t go further into the reasons behind the decision.

“I would not want to share because we’re trying to make sure all the Is are dotted and all the Ts are crossed. It’s not just the stats that are going to determine our quarterback. We’re going to look at who’s the best leader, who’s the best teammate, who handles adverse situations the best. We’re going to look for that person as the next quarterback for this franchise hopefully for long term, who is best suited all around to be that guy.”

While their play will speak for itself, Reed said situations like Thursday’s announcement are useful to show how the quarterbacks deal with off-field issues.

“With regard to other things, the intangible things, they’re going to show their colours based on the scenarios,” he said. “Today was an opportunity to sit back and observe how Matt handled the announcement, how Mike handled the announcement.”

He said they both did so exceptionally well.

Reed said both Nichols and Reilly have to play in both pre-season so the coaching staff can see them in game situations.

“They don’t have enough starts under their belts for us to feel comfortable,” Reed said.

Nichols, got into eight games last season, completing 58 per cent of his passes for 884 yards and seven touchdowns. He said he was pleased to get the start at home, where he got one of his starts last year and feels comfortable.

“It’s a different feel for me,” he said. “Usually when I play in a pre-season game, the last time I played in a game was the previous pre-season. This year it’s different, I got into games last season, so I’ll be a lot more comfortable.”

Reilly, obtained in an off-season trade with the B.C. Lions where he played in six games last year, said he’s not reading too much into Nichols getting the start.

“That’s not for me to worry about,” he said. “My job is to come in whenever they tell me and to run the plays, and that’s what I’m focused on.

“It’s a big challenge to just not read into things and control what you can control. That’s what I’ve tried to do all through camp. I don’t care when I get to play. It could be the first snap, it could be the fourth quarter and I wouldn’t care, I just want to get out there and play.”

Reed said both pivots will get equal playing time Friday, going on the number of snaps rather than by quarters.

No matter who ultimately earns the starting job, his ability to improve the Eskimo offence and lead the team to victory will depend largely on the revamped offensive line.

Both general manager Ed Hervey and Reed publicly criticized the line early in training camp but by Thursday were pleased with the response and the improvement.

“Those guys have responded very well,” said Reed. “They have done a tremendous of sticking together in terms of film room and talking to each other, they stay after practice. It’s about chemistry; it’s about having those guys jell together as quickly as possible.”

Going into tonight’s game it is a line without a single returning starter in his same position from last year

Realistically, said Reed, there’s probably gong to four starters who either weren’t even on last year’s roster or were on the bench at times.

“Simeon (Rottier) didn’t play a complete year, Gord Hinse didn’t start last year, our two tackles don’t have CFL experience and we’re experimenting with Matt O’Donnell being at guard,” Reed said. “Five changes essentially with Simeon moving from left to right.”

Hinse is expected to regain the starting centre position he held in 2011 but lost last year to Kyle Koch, who was released early in camp.

Hinse, who at six-foot-four, 300-pound is the smallest starter on the line, admitted the line struggled the first few days “but the last couple of days you can see everyone has improved, to a man.”

“With the new coach we have new techniques, a new mindset, new attitudes and a new offence, almost a complete overhaul,” Hinse said. “Plus new players. A lot of these guys are rookies, first time in the CFL so that poses a challenge too.”

He said the early criticism was warranted and carried a purpose.

“You have to realize if they’re criticizing it’s because they want you to succeed, so just man up, pull your socks up and get to work.”

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