EDMONTON — His body healed from all the punishing hits he took last season, bulked-up quarterback Mike Reilly returned to Edmonton this week excited and confident that 2014 will be a much better year for the Eskimos.
“I started workouts about two weeks into the off-season,” the 29-year-old said at an early morning availability session Wednesday.
“The plan was to bulk up, to get to 225, 230 (pounds) which is where I was at in 2011 and I felt good at that playing weight. That’s where I am now.”
The six-foot-three Reilly started last season – his first as a starter in the CFL – at 215 pounds and was down to about 205 by the end of the season that saw the Eskimos finish in fourth place in the West Division. He took the vast majority of the 60 quarterback sacks the team gave up.
He stopped hurting a couple of weeks after the season ended and immediately began plans to bulk up.
“I think the weight is an advantage, as long as I can still move, which I can,” he said. “I made sure the weight I’ve gained has been in the right way and the athleticism hasn’t been lost so I feel good about it.
“In the pocket if you weigh more it takes more of a hit to knock you off your path. If you stay in the pocket you get bumped and pushed around a little bit while you’re trying to make a throw downfield and I think it will help me in the pocket and make me more durable. Last year I started 18 games and that’s hard to do and it’s my goal this year as well.”
He started every game despite all the brutal punishment he took that included suffering a concussion from a hit Sept. 28 in Toronto. He completed 305-of-512 passes (59.6 per cent) with 24 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and an 89.1 rating. He also ran for 709 yards, most by any quarterback and fifth best in the CFL.
His off-season included spending time in Montana with his parents, in New York with his girlfriend and touring Ireland in January, his first time off the continent.
He also spent time working out Eskimos receivers and will do more of that in Edmonton this week, later this month in Toronto and in early April in Houston. Those workouts, however, are pretty basic until the players receive a playbook from the Eskimos new coaching staff that is headed by Chris Jones, who replaced Kavis Reed in the off-season.
Reilly spoke to all the coaches on the phone and said from everything he’s heard so far “it definitely seems like their direction is something I’m excited about.”
That direction includes better protection for himself.
“There are a number of ways it can happen,” he said. “There’s a number of things that go into it: pass protection, your run game, your screen package, quick passing game as well as play action to keep the defences on their heels a bit.
“We did some good things last year but we obviously had some glaring deficiencies to work on a that’s stuff we’re going to clean up early in camp. I expect it to be quite a different scenario next season in terms of offence.”
However, he added, it’s still football and that means he is going to get hit. But he’s confident that with the new coaches, a new offensive scheme and the player changes on the offensive line that won’t happen as often.
“There’s a lot of things we learned last season, that I learned personally and I think this team as a whole can take as positives,” he said. “Even the negatives, you learn more from them than the positives so we learned a lot, unfortunately. But that should help this season.
“I think we’re a playoff team. Anything short of that is a bad season for anybody. I don’t care what happened the year before, in this league there’s so much parity that teams go up and down so drastically sometimes. But it’s a whole new season a we have 18 games to play and we have as good a chance as anyone to win those games.”