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CFL.ca presents ‘Off-Season Depth Chart’, a series of articles reviewing every team’s depth chart going into training camp. Note that these are not official team-issued depth charts, but projections based on insight and analysis from around the league. Additionally, 2019 draft picks are not included.
EDMONTON — Brock Sunderland has made the most of a difficult situation.
With Mike Reilly‘s future hanging in the balance for what felt like an eternity, Sunderland was ready for ‘Plan B’. The rest is history, as Reilly signed with the Lions while the Eskimos became the busiest team in free agency.
Led by Trevor Harris at quarterback and a host of other big-name stars added to both sides of the ball, the Esks won’t bow down to anyone in the highly-competitive West. The question is, how quickly can it all come together?
We’ve heard it before: free agent victories don’t always equate to wins on the field. But with a new-look defence and a re-stocked offence, the Eskimos may have obtained dark horse status in the West.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball:
Both Sunderland and Head Coach Jason Maas leveraged their REDBLACKS ties this off-season, bringing in three key pieces from Ottawa’s core. It starts at quarterback, where the addition of Trevor Harris eases the pain of losing franchise star Mike Reilly in free agency. Harris, still just 32 years old, is in his football prime and has played at a high level before, most recently throwing for 5,116 yards while leading Ottawa to a Grey Cup runner-up.
The new Eskimo pivot will have plenty of help around him. For starters, familiarity could help this offence get off the ground quickly, as Harris knows Maas from his time with the Argos, negating the usual learning curve that comes with a new playbook. Elsewhere, Greg Ellingson joins Harris from the nation’s capital after forming one of the CFL’s top quarterback-receiver duos of the last three years, while SirVincent Rogers will anchor the offensive line at left tackle.
Since Maas became the Eskimos’ head coach, most of the CFL’s top receivers have come out of Edmonton. In fact, the four highest single-season receiving totals since 2016 all belong to Eskimos in Adarius Bowman, Brandon Zylstra, Derel Walker and Duke Williams. Not one of those receivers remains, but you can expect a couple of Eskimos to be near the top of the leaderboard all season long. In addition to Ellingson, free agent signing DaVaris Daniels may be a good candidate to top the charts in 2019.
While new additions Ricky Collins and Canadian Tevaun Smith will have a chance to fill out the Esks’ receiving corps, there could be some dynamic playmakers in the backfield too. Seventh-year back C.J. Gable leads the charge after his first 1,000-yard season a year ago, but sophomores Shaq Cooper and Jordan Robinson are exciting young backs who could push the 31-year-old veteran.
Up front, the Eskimos have the ratio flexibility to start three American offensive linemen if they decide to start Travis Bond on the inside. Either way, the addition of Rogers allows Matthew O’Donnell to move back to guard, while David Beard appears primed to take on a full-time starting job at centre.
Now let’s look at the other side of the ball, which also has plenty of moving parts heading into 2019:
With a new defensive coordinator in Phillip Lolley along with a handful of new starters, the Eskimos’ defence will be hardly recognizable in 2019. The biggest difference is in the linebacker core, where long-time veteran J.C. Sherritt has retired while the club has added big-name free agents Larry Dean and Jovan-Santos Knox.
Dean, who has never missed a game while averaging 93 tackles per season in three years with Hamilton, anchors a defence that struggled down the stretch in 2018. The question is whether Santos-Knox can displace Canadian starter Adam Konar at the WILL linebacker position, one that’s been Canadian over the last couple of years in Edmonton.
The secondary will be defined by competition, with virtually every spot up for grabs outside of free agent signing Anthony Orange at boundary corner. Money Hunter, Maurice McKnight and Forrest Hightower are all vying for starting halfback jobs, while Jordan Hoover and Jordan Beaulieu could battle it out at safety. Assuming the Eskimos go Canadian at field corner, Arjen Colquhoun, who’s trying to bounce back from an injury in 2018, comes into camp ahead of last year’s draft pick Godfrey Onyeka.
On the defensive line, most of last year’s starters are back on the roster, though the team has added Mic’hael Brooks to the equation at defensive tackle. Interior lineman Almondo Sewell is back for a ninth season in the league, while the pass rushing combo of Alex Bazzie and Canadian Kwaku Boateng could be one of the best in the league at getting to the quarterback.
With an offence that’s expected to put up big numbers even without Mike Reilly in 2019, the Eskimos’ defence could be a deciding factor for a team flying under the radar.