The Edmonton Eskimos had a solid turnaround under first year head coach Kavis Reed in 2011. After missing the playoffs in 2010 with a 7-11 record, the Eskimos flipped their wins and loss totals to finish 11-7, good enough for second place in the West. The Eskimos then beat their provincial rival Calgary Stampeders 33-19 at home in the playoffs to earn a trip to the Western Final. The team would ultimately come up short though falling 40-23 to the eventual Grey Cup champion BC Lions.
|Ricky Ray was the face of the Eskimos franchise for the better part of a decade before being traded to Toronto in the off-season.
Things are looking very different in Edmonton these days.
Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Argonauts during the off-season that sent long-time Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray to the boatmen.
Ray had spent his entire nine-year CFL career with the Edmonton Eskimos, amassing more than 40,000 passing yards and 210 touchdowns, five team nominees for Most Outstanding Player, and several team records.
In return the Eskimos received quarterback Steven Jyles, promising young kicker Grant Shaw, and Toronto's first pick (second overall) in the draft.
While the Ray deal was by far the biggest move for the Eskimos this off-season it certainly wasn't the only one as Tillman was very busy in free agency and in making deals.
The club added a plethora of talent on offence since last year's deadline trading for former Roughrider Hugh Charles at the deadline and signing Cary Koch, former Bomber Greg Carr and Canadian receiver Matt Carter during the off-season.
Charles brings alot of speed to the Eskimos backfield while Carr and Koch will both be valuable additions to the Eskimos receiving corps and should alleviate some of the pressure on Fred Stamps. Carter gives the Eskimos some more coveted Canadian depth.
Defensively the biggest addition for the club might be tackle Don Oramasionwu who is a solid run-stopper on the interior of the line. The club also brought back defensive end Rashad Jeanty who played with the Eskimos from 2002-05 before leaving for the NFL.
On special teams the club also added former Stampeders All-Star punter Burke Dales.
Besides all of the additions there were also a few notable Eskimos departures during the off-season. Besides Ray, the biggest loss to the offence is last year's Most Outstanding Canadian, running back Jerome Messam. Messam signed in the NFL but his status for playing anywhere is dependant upon recovery from a knee injury.
The biggest losses on defence may be Rod Davis and Mark Restelli, who signed with the Montreal Alouettes as free agents.
Greg Peach is another big loss for the D as he moved moved East to Hamilton. Jason Barnes also headed to Ontario and is now in Toronto. Canadian receiver Chris Bauman who signed a big contract in free agency a year ago meanwhile was released after just one season of limited production with the team.
The team also parted ways with long-time offensive linemand Patrick Kabongo as well as kicker Damon Duval, return man Jason Armstead and defensive back Jykine Bradley.
It's tough to figure what type of season the Eskimos are headed for after such a tumultuous off-season.
The club certainly brought in some talent. They lost some too.
Kavis Reed and the coaching staff have a tough job in incorporating all of the new faces into their system and making it work.
|The Eskimos are hoping that Steven Jyles can stay healthy this year and fill the void left by Ricky Ray at quarterback.
Undoubtedly the biggest question mark for the team is at quarterback where after nearly a decade of Ricky Ray the club is forced to look elsewhere.
To say Ricky Ray was loved by everyone in Edmonton would be a lie, many fans just couldn't get behind his calm demeanor and wished he would have more fire. What you can't deny is that he produced.
Now the club is left with Steven Jyles as the projected number one. Jyles is still somewhat of an unproven commodity after some uneven stints as a starter. When healthy and starting Jyles' production has been pretty good. It's being able to have him string together the starts which has been a problem.
That leaves Kerry Joseph a former CFL MOP and Grey Cup champion as the backup and in the mix for some playing time. Joseph brings alot of experience to the table but is certainly on the shaded side of the hill in his career.
Without Messam the Eskimos running game may not be as powerful as it was a year ago but the addition of Hugh Charles does add speed and shiftiness. At receiver the Eskimos look to have improved greatly with the additions of Carr and Koch.
Carr brings a huge frame and big play ability to the team while Koch adds quickness, good hands and reliability out of the slot. Carr also brings familiarity with Jyles from their time in Winnipeg together. Both should help Eskimos All-Star Fred Stamps as the coverage won't be able to key on him. Stamps notched his third straight 1,000 yard season last year despite appearing in only 15 games.
On defence, the signing of Rashad Jeanty made Greg Peach expendable. The club is also banking that Oramasionwu is a star in the making. Last season, he was able to fill in well for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and should see an uptick in playing time with the Eskimos year.
Rod Davis will be difficult to replace but the team feels is has the depth it needs at linebacker to build on their solid play form a year ago.
On special teams, Dales' addition gives the coaching staff the flexibility to keep the kicking position Canadian with either Derek Schiavone or Shaw, or even both.
||OL Austin Pasztor
||WR Shamawd Chambers
||DL Justin Capicciotti
||DE Hasan Hazime
||LB Ryan King
The Eskimos acquired the second overall pick in the draft from Toronto in the Ricky Ray trade and were hoping they could maybe turn that pick into Ben Heenan.
However, the Riders made it clear they were taking Heenan with the first pick. So, the Eskimos then decided to trade their pick to the B.C. Lions, along with the 20th overall selection, in exchange for the fourth, 14th and 38th choices.
The team then shifted focus and got offensive lineman Austin Pasztor out of Virginia whom they were also very high on despite knowing they would likely have to wait for him.
With the sixth overall selection, the Esks nabbed maybe the most pure athlete in the entire Draft in Wilfred Laurier receiver Shamawd Chambers. Chambers ran 4.42 40-yard dash at the CFL E-Camp and impressed in all of the testing.
With their final picks the team looked to add to their Canadian depth on the defensive side of the ball.