CFL training camps are now into their second week, and the smiles are not so evident on the faces of the players compared to the first week of camp.
Training camp is the most grueling part of the season for a football player. The day starts early in the morning and finishes late at night. Meetings followed by two-a-day practices followed by more meetings. The outside world becomes non-existent to football players.
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My broadcast partner Morley Scott talked about this very subject with Eskimos running back Hugh Charles. At the end of the interview Morley asked Charles “What day is it today?” Charles paused, strained, then smiled and answered correctly “Tuesday.”
Playing against and hitting people with the same coloured shirt becomes old very fast.
Teams must be envying the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts, as they've actually have played a game.
That’s what the Eskimos are eagerly anticipating, playing an actual game. That will happen on Friday night when they host the BC Lions at Commonwealth Stadium.
For head coach Chris Jones, Friday’s game is a chance for him and the coaching staff to see if his players can take what they have learned in practice and meetings into a real, live game.
“Well it’s important that they come out and perform on a daily basis,” Jones said.
“The game is only one part of it but when those light do go on I’ve had some guys that do good at practice but when the game comes along, maybe not so good. Again, that’s just one of the things as far as the evaluation process goes that’s unique. You figure out who you want to give reps to and go let them compete.”
The examples are numerous of players who have shined in practice but fell short during a pre-season game.
On the flip side, the Eskimos have two very recent examples of players who cemented their spot thanks to pre-season games who were flying way under the radar in practice.
The first is J.C. Sherritt, the CFL record holder for most tackles in a season with 130 set only two years ago. When Sherritt arrived in Edmonton three years ago, he was fourth on the Eskmos depth chart at short-side linebacker.
In the final week of training camp, Sherritt was practicing with the starting group and after the Eskimos final pre-season game he was named the starting Will linebacker.
Two years ago during a pre-season game in Calgary, defensive back Joe Burnett locked up his starting spot on the wide-side corner thanks to his performance. Burnett didn’t record a single tackle but provided a highlight moment with a pick-six. The Eskimos also lost that game in the final minute after leading for the most of it.
Burnett says you can’t take the pre-season games lightly.
“It’s very important because you are being evaluated, you always got to lock in,” Burnett said.
“There are tough situations, there’s change, there’s adversity. Those are the times where you are being evaluated the most. When you are up as far as winning the game, when you are down are far as losing the game. If you can come back and rally and get through adversity, those are the types of things coaches will evaluate you on.”
Burnett is one of the few veterans that is fighting to maintain his starters spot in the secondary. Right now he’s on the second team as newcomer Robert Sands and veteran Marcell Young are manning the corners on first team. Burnett isn’t for one second shying away from competition.
“It’s always competition in training camp,” he said. “Coming in this year I am running with the twos, I just really lock in and help the team wherever its first string or second string, it really doesn’t matter.”
It will all matter on Friday night. For some they will elevate themselves and earn a chance to play in the second pre-season game. For others, they will be over-taken by the moment, the mistakes in front of 30,000 people will be magnified and their goal of becoming an Eskimo for the 2014 season will be dashed.
CFL training camp rosters must be cut down to 65 players on Sunday.
Dave Campbell has been on the Eskimos beat since 2004. He’s entering his ninth season as the Eskimo colour analyst for 630 CHED broadcasts. He also hosts The Points After Show, an openline post-game show. Follow Dave on Twitter @Dave_CHED.