Out of the disaster that was last season for the Edmonton Eskimos, the team accomplished perhaps the most important task of a rebuilding squad.
A 4-14 record (last in the West Division) with a seventh ranked offence in terms of points scored and sixth-ranked defence wasn't pretty. Nor was the contract extension given to Kavis Reed early in the year.
But few expected the Eskimos to truly compete in the tough West Division and figured 2013, the first of the Ed Hervey era, would be a rebuilding year. The main goal Eskimos fans hoped would be accomplished was, the team found what looks to be their quarterback of the future in Mike Reilly.
Edmonton procured Reilly after a three-year apprenticeship in BC under one of the best QBs in the game Travis Lulay.
In his first year as a full-time starter Reilly impressed with 4,207 passing yards and 24 touchdowns to 18 interceptions while missing some game action due to a late-season concussion. Buoyed somewhat by injuries around the league, Reilly was second in the league in passing and when you add his impressive 709 yards on the ground, was only 300 yards behind league-leader Henry Burris for most combined yards.
The 29-year-old also proved to have the heart of a champion, a quality surely revered by the City of Champions. Reilly's gutsy play made him a quick fan favourite but there is a disadvantage to his full speed, caution to the wind playing style as well.
Buck Pierce was loved and respected two provinces over for his gutsy efforts the past several years. He also spent a sizable amount of time on the injured list before the Winnipeg Blue Bombers decided it best to move on from the courageous quarterback.
Reilly would do well to find a nice balance between winning at all costs and career longevity, something the Eskimos are likely preaching to him as well.
With the QB position solidified, the Eskimos attacked another major deficiency in landing a promising head coach in the off-season.
Chris Jones learned the CFL craft with the Montreal Alouettes, picking up a Grey Cup ring in the process, before expanding his role with the Calgary Stampeders and earning another championship. He was a hot commodity when he jumped ship to the Toronto Argonauts, helping the team win the historic 100th Grey Cup, the third of his career.
Jones is a proven winner and a coach that will demand results; he brings a much different style to the table than that of his predecessor, Reed's.
Albeit big ones, Jones and Reilly are just two pieces of the puzzle. And the Eskimos need to get better filling the many holes they still have on the roster.
The objective now may be to speed up the process. Eskimo fans will have to learn a lot more patience if the team is only checking off one item per year on the “to-do” list.
That said, the Lions, Calgary Stampeders, and Saskatchewan Roughriders all figure to field contenders once again in 2014. Edmonton should be afforded at least one more year of rebuilding. With Reilly in tow at quarterback and Jones looking promising at head coach, the Eskimos can focus on building a more complete roster top to bottom.
The Eskimos lost a trio of promising young players in the expansion draft to Ottawa. International receiver Carlton Mitchell was plucked in the first round but his loss won't be felt as much nationals Alexander Krausnick, a centre, and Justin Capiciotti, a defensive lineman.
Edmonton remains in rebuilding mode and added a couple nice pieces to their roster during free agency. The biggest chip was cornerback Patrick Watkins, who followed his defensive coordinator Chris Jones out west. Edmonton also nabbed some offensive linemen in Justin Sorensen and Andrew Jones, and national receiver Akeem Foster.
The Eskimos had the fewest picks in the draft with just five and were one of three teams to not take a single offensive lineman. Instead, they targeted the skill positions in grabbing WR Devon Bailey from St. Francis Xavier in the first round and RB Aaron Milton from Toronto in the second round. The team's final three picks included DB Raye Hartmann from St. Francis Xavier in the fourth round, K/P Zackary Medeiros from Montreal in the sixth round, and DL Michael Dadzie from Regina in the seventh round.