February 24, 2023

Landry: Cornelius confident with new trio of pass-catchers

Jason Halstead/CFL.ca

Taylor Cornelius has a few things to be happy about right now. He’s getting married in a week, for one. His team, the Edmonton Elks, just loaded up on receivers in free agency, for two, and that’s pretty big for a quarterback, wouldn’t you say?

Oh, and no longer having a ruptured spleen can make a guy feel pretty great too, and he’s got that going for him as well.

The 27-year-old native of Amarillo, Texas is on the line from his home in Oklahoma City and he is in a very good mood, laughing freely, offering up the news of his impending nuptials right off the top, without prompting. He’s about to wed his longtime college sweetheart, Abby, and that is, of course, the biggest thing in his life.

But there is more. Not that a guy needs more than that.

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There is the fact that the Elks have just added a trio of star receivers to the team’s air attack corps, picking up ex-Saskatchewan Roughrider Kyran Moore, ex-Hamilton Ticat Steven Dunbar Jr., and, most notably, ex-Montreal Alouette Eugene Lewis, in an eye-popping free agency haul. Heading into his third year with the Elks, Cornelius has a rather robust offence – at least on paper – with which to work.

“To have as good a free agency as we did, it just makes you even that much more confident,” says Cornelius, who will begin play in 2023 under the terms of a two-year contract extension signed last September.

It is quite obvious to everyone what the Elks are getting in their trio of new receivers, particularly Lewis, who completed another outstanding season in 2022 when he hauled in 91 receptions for 1,303 yards and ten touchdowns for the Montreal Alouettes on the way to being named the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player. What might not be quite so obvious is just how far back general manager and head coach Chris Jones was making plans to add the star receiver to the Elks’ stable, telling Cornelius about it back in October.

“Me and coach Jones talked about (Lewis) in our exit interview and we thought he was, you know, a fit for us on the field as well off the field,” says Cornelius. “We heard nothing but good things about him and then the on the field stuff just speaks for itself. I mean, it’s unbelievable what he can do.”

In Dunbar, the Elks bring a division All-Star into the fold, a big bodied target who can get downfield and make contested catches look easy. Cornelius can’t help but lick his chops, thinking of the ridiculous catch Dunbar made against Ottawa during a Week 6 game last season. “It’s just unbelievable. I mean, he gets PI’d and and comes down with it one handed.

“He’s a big tall receiver and made some unbelievable plays (last) year. And obviously, you know, an All-Star and thousand-yard receiver and all that stuff.”

With the acquisition of Moore, Cornelius and the Elks add a speedster who is looking for redemption after an injury-plagued final season in Saskatchewan during which he saw action in merely seven games. Cornelius talked with Moore just after the signing and says the Elks are getting a guy who is psyched to be back in an operation run by coaches who helped him have his best days when they were together in Saskatchewan.


“He is happy to be back with (coach) Jones and (offensive coordinator Stephen) McAdoo where he had his best season,” says Cornelius. “And he’s just a playmaker with the ball in his hands. I mean, he’s unbelievable after the catch.”

Although the Elks have lost superstar receiver Kenny Lawler in free agency, and may well have permanently parted company with Derel Walker, you cannot say the team is worse for wear when you consider their trio of big free agency acquisitions. And when it is mentioned to Cornelius that they still have guys like veteran Manny Arceneaux on the team as well as breakout stars like receiver Dillon Mitchell and running back Kevin Brown returning, he laughs a knowing laugh, like a mad scientist eagerly awaiting the mixing of some new potions.

“He took the CFL by storm in the last few games, that’s for sure,” Cornelius says of Mitchell, who had 35 catches for 637 yards in nine games in 2022. “All those deep catches he had.”

Brown bided his time in the background for a big chunk of the season as well, before making everyone take notice with 486 rushing yards and another 176 in receptions, in just seven games. “With the ball in his hands in open spaces, he’s just a difference maker,” says Cornelius.

Yes, the Elks suffered through a mostly dreary season in 2022, ultimately finishing with a record of 4 and 14, but things were quite obviously looking better in Edmonton, with the emergence of new stars like Brown and Mitchell and a new gear found by Cornelius, as the season began to fade.

“The last few games we started to feel like we were picking up momentum and you can see the ship turning in the right direction for what we wanted to do,” says Cornelius, who started to run a little more than he had previously and started to connect with receivers more commonly as well. Jones had been noticing the uptick in his quarterback’s play even before it was obvious to everyone else and the offer of a new contract was a real booster for Cornelius. “They gave me all the confidence in the world when they wanted me to re-sign,” he says.

Cornelius finished his second season with 205 completions on 357 attempts for 2,768 yards, eleven touchdowns and nine interceptions. The big QB (six-foot-five, 230 pounds) rushed 71 times for 502 yards and seven touchdowns, with much of his production coming as he and the Elks started to trend upwards as the season drained. True, Edmonton lost its final four games of the year, but those included two games they know they ought to have won, one against Montreal and another against Toronto.

It was in that game against the Argonauts, on October 15, where Cornelius suffered a spleen injury he didn’t know he had, taking a bruising hit from Argos’ linebacker Henoc Muamba.

“I assumed I just got the wind knocked outta me,” remembers Cornelius of the play, a 30-yard run that set up the Elks at the Argos’ four-yard line. Cornelius would be sidelined for a number of plays, but he did return late in the game. It was only later that night when he knew something was quite wrong.


“After the game we were driving home and, just, something started not feeling right,” says Cornelius. “It was just hard to breathe and I ended up going to the apartment and passing out. Thank goodness Abby was there. She called the ambulance and they got me all fixed up.”

“Once I got to the hospital, they did an ultrasound and they were looking inside and they were like ‘You’re bleeding internally. You’ve got some blood in there.’ And then they went to the other side and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, your spleen’s ruptured.’ I was like ‘okay.’ At least I went to the hospital for good reason.”

After corrective surgery, Cornelius says, he had “four straight weeks of doin’ nothing,” and then two more weeks of doing almost nothing other than a little light pedalling on a stationary bike. Now, he says he’s top shelf and raring to go.

“I’m back to training full time and throwing and everything’s all healed up,” he says, brightly. “As far as I know, a hundred per cent. I mean, I’ve had no effects or anything like that, besides just being out of shape from sitting on my butt for six weeks.”

He’d better get at it, then. Because Taylor Cornelius has a suddenly souped-up offence to start operating in three months and reason to look good in a tux in a week.

No wonder he’s laughing so much.

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