Photo: The Canadian Press
Upon Further Review is a series that looks back at each team’s 2021 season, their key free agent additions and other staff and roster changes and looks ahead to their 2022 campaign.
For the ninth and final article in our annual Upon Further Review series we examine the Edmonton Elks.
Brief summary: It wasn’t good.
Adequate summary: The team didn’t get top tier talent to perform at the expected level and the results created a cascade of effects, damning their first newly-named season from the get go.
In-depth summary: The dream scenario of pairing QB Trevor Harris with former REDBLACKS’ offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine as projected — present company included. The offence put up plenty of net yardage at times but didn’t produce consistently and well below grade in the score zone where Elizondo-Harris teams struggled at times in their Ottawa partnership.
In response to this, Edmonton went from struggling veteran to unproven CFL rookie with QB Taylor Cornelius taking the majority of snaps through 2021, despite showing little improvement or accelerated understanding of the Canadian game.
RB James Wilder Jr. did his best to carry the team but was eventually overwhelmed as Derel Walker put together a second-straight lacklustre season and Greg Ellingson registered just one touchdown, against lowly Ottawa.
On defence turnover creation was nearly non-existent and the net yardage allowed would be difficult for any club to overcome.
Welcome to the Chris Jones revolution.
With general manager Brock Sunderland and coach Elizondo gone, Edmonton brought in Victor Cui as team president and CEO to reinvigorate the passionate ‘EE’ fan base and hired the former Riders’ bench boss as the master of all things Green and Gold, while Geroy Simon hopped aboard at a high level football operations role to help build Edmonton out of the 2020 and 2021 mess.
Quickly the names began to follow. A pair of Alouettes’ offensive linemen in David Foucault and Tony Washington, alongside hometown boy Mark Korte will supply some body-moving prowess for Wilder Jr., who re-signed.
Then Jones and Co. went to work on the defence. Antonio Simmons was brought back on the defensive line while Canadian pass rushers Mathieu Betts and Kwaku Boateng were sent packing. Defensive lineman Stefan Charles was a late add out of Ottawa joining former Riders Jordan Reaves, Tobi Antigha, Deon Lacey, Ed Gainey and Makana Henry.
The swath of talent from Riderville to the City of Champions showed Jones was looking for former players who understand his scheme and overall approach. An argument only bolstered by the surprise resurfacing of one Duron Carter signing in Edmonton as a defensive back, with receivers Adarius Bowman and Manny Arceneaux hopping back into the swing of things on offence.
With no judgement, projection or promises made, we can all agree on one thing: The Edmonton Elks of 2021 will not be a boring watch.
So much of this section while reviewing team hopes moving forward comes down to quarterback play. I’m not sure based on the style of play expected from Jones and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo that anyone lining up under centre for the Elks in 2021 will have to be their best player on offence.
With that being said, it’s still the CFL and Jones will have to adapt to whoever wins the starting job in order to grow the team as a cohesive unit and not just his defence vs. his offence with a sprinkle of special teams thrown in the mix.
Nick Arbuckle deserves the opportunity to earn the starting job as if he is the incumbent. I say that knowing how hard Arbuckle works, how much he cares and how badly he wants to succeed. All of which sounds great and are qualities you would look for in a starting quarterback, but on Chris Jones teams, the quarterback either produces or they quickly lose favour.
With the Elks searching for their new age version of former Jones dual threat Jordan Lynch — very much in the vision of what Winnipeg did with Chris Streveler in 2019 — and Ohio State standout J.T. Barrett coming to camp, the road to starting and more importantly staying for Arbuckle won’t be simple.
Edmonton needs improved quarterback play, Derel Walker to play like his former Edmonton self, Wilder Jr. to be one of the league’s best and Jones’ defence to work its disruptive, turnover-producing magic. If it all lines up, the EE could be back near the top of the table come cold weather at Commonwealth, but it will take a lot to overcome the powers that be in the West division.