You realize how long a football off-season is when the first day of CFL Training Camp finally arrives.
It’s like Christmas morning.
The smiles can’t be wiped off the players faces. The fans that come down to watch their team are full of hope and optimism. The coaches, who have worked tirelessly in the off-season making plans, crafting depth charts and watching endless amount of film, pretty much do the same thing. The difference is they along with general manager Ed Hervey get to see before their very eyes the fruits of their labour.
Day one of Training Camp for the Eskimos opened in the fieldhouse beside Commonwealth Stadium, now this is my 11th training camp covering the Eskimos.
Usually it takes some time for team to have the pace ramped up. Well someone forgot to tell that to the new head coach of the Green and Gold Chris Jones.
I talked to several different players following that first practice and they said the pace on day one was the fastest they have ever experienced.
The Eskimos have moved to the confines of Commonwealth Stadium meaning the pace has been even faster. It’s the mindset of Jones to practice fast.
Two-time CFL All-Star and the prized free-agent signing by the Eskimos Pat Watkins knows Jones very well. The two were together with the Toronto Argonauts the previous two seasons where Jones served as the Defensive Coordinator.
Watkins says his new teammates have asked him if this is how Jones operated in Toronto.
“I’ve had a few people ask me if the practices were this intense in Toronto and I’m like yeah of course,“ Watkins said. “I’ve been asked a lot questions about Coach Jones. Overall, Coach Jones doesn’t want to see us fail. It’s a bad look for him and bad look for us as athletes. I think even if it looks hard and feels hard, he means really, really well.”
Hard is a good term to use. I’ve seen numerous players huffing and puffing after practice. Jones makes sure that his team isn’t standing around doing nothing. Training camp sessions are usually three-and-half hours long with a 15 minute break between sessions.
During practice, Jones is utilizing the entire field. There are not one but two 12-on-12 drills going on facing the opposite way of each other. I have never seen that done before by any coach. Jones says it’s something new for him too.
“We’re trying to get the tempo going so we are running the plays in the opposite direction, it’s the first time I’ve ever done that,” Jones explained. “It allows 48 people to basically be working at one time. You don’t have a lot of people standing on the sidelines.”
You can’t accuse Jones so far of not being afraid of trying new ideas.
“You pick the things certainly that you’ve seen work and that you’ve seen at other places that have been successful,” he said. “And you have ideas that you try and see if they work and if they do you implement them if not you take them out.”
One idea that has been taken out is any reference to the 2013 season which only produced four wins for the Green and Gold. Jones says it’s a new season and the team is in the early stages of establishing themselves for the 2014 season.
“We’re going to prepare,” Jones said. “Winning attitude, this, that, or the other. That’s inferring back to last year which we are not going to talk about. We are in the here and now. We are going to be prepared when we walk on the field and we are going to do the best job we can that will give us the best chance when we play a pre-season game going on into the season.”
The team now is entering the part of training camp where the installation of the offense and defense starts to ramp up. About 65 to 70% of the packages are in place and the players are trying their best to absorb the playbook as fast as possible.
The first real test will occur at this Saturday’s Fan Day at Clarke Park where the team will hold a scrimmage. It’s always been treated as a glorified pre-season game.
So the pace is high as are the demands. You either keep up or you fall behind and will likely be left behind.
Chris Jones is already making a strong impression with his new team.
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.