Two years ago, fans of the Edmonton Eskimos looked at the team’s quarterback depth and cringed. Of course, that trade happened in December of 2011 which sent the club reeling. Fast forward two years later and the Eskimos are making a commitment to the new man under centre.
Quarterback Mike Reilly signed a new three-year contract taking him through to the end of the 2016 CFL season.
The move was a no-brainer according to general manager Ed Hervey.
“Mike in his first year here has shown his ability to play and his ability to lead,” Reilly said. “He’s a quality human being, he’s a leader. Every aspect of his game that we traded for he has shown on the field through and through and off the field.”
A year ago there were a lot of question marks about Mike Reilly. He was acquired by the Eskimos from the BC Lions in the 2013 off-season. He struggled early last season, caught fire around mid-July, was knocked around and beat up but still managed to have a solid season. He finished second in the CFL in passing yards (4,207), tied for second in the league in touchdown passes (24), and finished fifth in the CFL in rushing yards (709).
Reilly says the contract extension will not add any more pressure than what he already feels.
“I think if you are going to be a starting quarterback, there’s pressure to win no matter what,” Reilly said. “If you don’t feel you need to go out and perform your best and win every time you step on a football field, it doesn’t matter what your contract status is, you’re not doing the right thing.”
Reilly has looked the part and owned the part of being the Eskimos starting quarterback. It started back at his introductory press conference. He talked the part very well in the off-season and he has simply matched the talk with action on the football field. The players around him love playing for him. Even Ed Hervey said he would have loved to play for Reilly.
Hervey did give two comparisons of Mike Reilly to a couple of quarterbacks he played with. He says Reilly has both the fire of Jason Maas and a steely demeanor of Ricky Ray.
Reilly is making his own mark as an Eskimos starting quarterback. His leadership shows in the locker room, in practice, in the huddle and with his play. The play never dies with Mike Reilly and his teammates can see that and that’s why they rally around their leader.
Reilly is still doing his best to learn a new offence which can’t be accused of being simple and boring like so many times in the past. It’s a complex offence which uses a lot of motion and will give the quarterback options at every level of the football field.
The number one priority for head coach Chris Jones is giving Reilly the protection he needs. That’s a big reason why the Eskimos chose to keep Tyler Thomas and John White as their running backs. They showed they have the skill to block for Reilly. They do that running thing pretty well too.
Reilly should have better pieces around him and a better offensive system to run this season. Easy to see why he made the commitment to sign for three more years. Reilly says he’s thinking even longer than three years, he would like to finish his career as an Eskimo.
“This is a great city and I said it when I signed here a year and a half ago,” he said. “I know the history of Edmonton, I know the history of the Eskimos and it’s an honour to become a part of this club. To really have my career start here and to continue my career and hopefully finish my career here is something that I’ve wanted since the day that I signed here.”
The first regular season test for the Eskimos is this Saturday in Vancouver against the B.C Lions.
The fan base are clamouring for a winner and deservedly so. Fans want to get excited about their Eskimos again. Hervey believes his team is better coached led by Chris Jones. His team will be better prepared and his players will be held accountable more than ever before.
The signing of Mike Reilly represents the commitment to better times ahead.
“I believe that when people watch us and watch us closely and see the things that we are doing, the fans will realize that this is something you want to buy into and this is a team that you want to be a part of. If you haven’t been around for awhile I suggest you come back.”
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.