2014 marks the start of the Chris Jones era as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos and many, myself included, think they may have found the right one.
If you ask Jones what he looks for in a player, his response is "aggressiveness with intelligence that play with a ‘liitle edge.'” That is a good definition of desire but could also be a description of Jones himself. Being aggressive is always a priority for a player; there are not many situations where being passive is beneficial on the football field. Pro football is not a nice game.
In many ways and at the majority of positions you're imposing your will on another player, another athlete, and quite often the player with the strongest will and desire wins that battle. Sometimes you qualify it as mental toughness, but an aggressive mind set wins in this sport as long as it is disciplined and under control.
Speaking of mind set, it may surprise you but intelligence is as important as any aspect of performance there is. The best linebacker in CFL football just may be J.C. Sherritt, the Eskimos middle linebacker.
By no means is he physically imposing or dominant but when it comes to football smarts there are few that are his superiors.
Interesting this year in that the injury adversity Sherritt faced last year gave an opportunity for another linebacker to shine in rookie Rennie Curran. This year both could be playing side by side in Edmonton, a strength for the Eskimos as both are athletic and very bright; they do not make the same mistake twice.
The third quality of a Chris Jones player is one that plays with a little edge. Note those three words, "a little edge," are not easy to define or visualize. Is it a player who is exceptionally aggressive or intelligent? Or perhaps it is an attitude or enthusiasm. I think it is a guy who has no fear, can't be intimidated and, either subtly or overtly, does the intimidating. I don't know if you can describe it in words, but I do know coaches, especially veterans, recognize and want it.
So the Chris Jones era begins and the Mike Reilly era, still in its infancy, continues. What was interesting to watch last year was how the Eskimos fans embraced Reilly as their quarterback. Not for the beautiful touchdown passes from the perfect spiral, or the ultimate three-minute drill to lead his team to poetic victory; they embraced Reilly because of the courage he played with in each and every game.
Reilly was pummeled last year for many reasons, sometime poor pass protection, sometimes too many predictable passing situations. Add in a poor running game Reilly's penchant for taking too many risks, he's gambling with his longevity.
But what I observed is the Edmonton football faithful recognize his courageous performances and genuinely respected and responded positively to it. In a time when maximum revenue is a key priority for many, Reilly demonstrated an opposite mentality of thought; risking all for the cause in many situations.
Now he has to temper it down however and he will or he'll still be a football hero in Edmonton, just not for 18 games.
The West is pretty good this year. Winnipeg will be better, Calgary and BC have good personnel that just need to stay healthy and focused, and Saskatchewan is the defending Grey Cup champion. So where does that leave Edmonton?
They will be aggressive, they will be intelligent, and they will play with an edge. They will pressure the quarterback relentlessly and take risks one-on-one in coverage. And of course, their quarterback will continue to play with the definable quality of courage each and every game. Edmonton may just be pretty good this year.