Archive for February, 2010

Roster Review: Wide Receiver

The receiving corps of a football team in the CFL is divided into two primary positions.  Wide receiver and Slotback.  As we continue our Roster Review series, we will be looking only at the wide receivers on the team. Wide receiver has long been a position of strength for the Green & Gold and it will continue to be so in the upcoming season, however a lack of quality depth is a little concerning.

What the coaches might be looking for.

Play makers. Outside of Maurice Mann, the Eskimos receiving corps has precious little depth. No one else could even considered a big play receiver. There will be ample opportunity in training camp for someone to gain the coaches attention. The Eskimos have one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Ricky Ray, but unless there are talented wideouts that can make plays, the offence could suffer. 

Current Roster.

Maurice Mann. Entering his fourth year with the Green & Gold,  the CFL all-star is poised to take his place among the elite receivers in the game. Mann had a breakout year in 2009, recording 917 yards in receiving yards to go along with 6 touchdowns. He will certainly be one of Ray’s go to guys in the upcoming season.

Andrew Nowacki. Nowacki is a consistent performer for the Eskimos and as a non-import, fills a vital role as a Canadian receiver that can start opposite Mann. Nowacki is strictly a possession type receiver who will run good routes, but can’t be expected to challenge the top defensive backs when it comes to being a vertical threat. His numbers from last year were a bit inflated due to a very impressive week one performance where he caught 7 balls for 79 yards. Take away that first game, and he only had 23 catches for 344 yards the rest of the year. Nowacki is still valuable to the team however as he also contributes on special teams where he serves as the holder on place kicking plays.

Efrem Hill.  Hill was on the reserve list for most of the season and was only activated near the end of the season as an injury replacement. He finished with 12 receptions for 167 yards in the three games he did play and will need to have a strong camp to make the team. Hill is one of the players that needs to be a play maker if he wants to find a permanent home with the Green & Gold or else his stay in the City of Champions could be a short one.

Kevin Challenger. Challenger filled the sixth receiver spot for the Eskimos in 2009 as a non-import and made his money on special teams. He played in all 18 games last year, however he will only have value to the organization if they cannot replace him with someone of equal talent who might have a higher upside.

Kevin Wuthrich. Wuthrich is a product of the Edmonton Wildcats Junior Football team and was assigned to the practice roster for the duration of the 2009 season. He counts as an area protected junior, which means that for the moment, the Eskimos retain his exclusive rights. Wuthrich is an intriguing prospect and it will be interesting to see how he has progressed when the Eskimos training camp convenes in May.

Skylar Green. Although Green is still signed to the Eskimos, he will at best be on the reserve list as long as Tristan Jackson is healthy. Green was brought on to the active roster at the end of the 2009 season to replace the injured Jackson on the punt and kick return teams. He played well and had a monster of a game against Calgary in week 20 where he amassed 253 yards and took one back all the way for a touchdown. However Jackson is still the Eskimos go to guy and unfortunatly for Green, leaves him on the outside looking in. It will be tough for him to make the squad out of camp.

Changes???

As was previously mentioned, Mann and Nowacki are the only two dependable receivers of the bunch. Everyone else will certainly be in tough to the make the active roster coming out of camp. In six months time, I would not be surprised if all four of Hill, Challenger, Wuthrich, and Green are no longer part of the Eskimos organization. Of course, they could also all still be here. The intriguing piece of the puzzle is Hill.  If he can become a play maker, or at least continue progressing towards being a difference maker, the Eskimos might have already solved their depth issues at the wide receiver position.

Advertisements

More Canadian Talent

The Eskimos made a curious move today acquiring two Canadian receivers from the Toronto Argos in exchange for import defensive tackle Eric Taylor. The move is curious because the Eskimos already have a strong contingent of Canadian receivers (Kamau Peterson, Andre Nowacki, Kevin Challenger), however lack depth at defensive tackle. Apart from Dario Romero, it would be tough to classify any of the others as all-star material.  And considering that the Eskimos had to go out and sign street free agent Jerome “Bowling Ball” Haywood (who by the way is still on the roster) midway through the year to fill the injury void, it’s a little bit of a head scratcher as to why they would trade a guy tha started every game he played in over the past two years and recording pretty decent numbers.

Not to say that the Eskimos received the proverbial bag of pucks, or in this case, kicking tees, back in return.  Andre Talbot is one of the better Canadian receivers in the league today, although at the ripe age of 31, his best playing days are probably behind him. He can still contribute, but this trade would have been a lot better if it was made a couple of years ago. The other receiver coming over to the Green & Gold is third year man Brad Smith. Smith is a work in progress who will probably contribute more to the special teams unit than to the offense. He only played in 8 games last year for what was arguably one of the worst teams of all time in the CFL. 

In the end, Talbot might be a nice addition to the roster, and Smith could develop into a quality depth player.  The trade just still seems a little bit curious.

Update: When the trade was announced, I was quick to question the move, or at least label it as curious.  However at the press conference, General Manager Danny Maciocia explained why the organization felt it could move Taylor. According to Maciocia, the Eskimos are on the verge of signing two new import interior lineman, both with NFL experience, and one that the Green & Gold were very excited about. In the end, assuming the signings take place, this could turn out to be a very good trade for the Eskimos.

Eskimos sign MLB Javier Glatt

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!  Wait…this isn’t a Montreal Canadians game or a bullfight. Pardon the theatrics, we here at the Eskimos Nation just got word that the Green & Gold had signed Javier Glatt, the one time CFL all star middle linebacker, formerly of the BC Lions. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to break out the chant.  On the surface, it looks like a pretty decent roster move, or is it?

Let’s take a look at the positives first. First of all, Glatt fills an area of need at MLB, where depth became a very apparent issue last season when Mo Lloyd went down to injury.  Second, as a Canadian, Glatt provides relief when it comes to managing the import ratio. Finally, Glatt is a proven commodity in the CFL and is still young enough (28 years old) where one would suspect his skills are not starting to decline. He is also a former starter on a Grey Cup winning team (BC Lions 2006) and has shown himself to be a good teammate both on and off the field.

On the other foot, if this guy is so good, why did the BC Lions decide to release him? Excellent question. Although a starter for two plus seasons, Glatt has never consistently put up spectacular numbers. He has always been just solid and reliable. His two best seasons in 2006 and 2008, have both been followed by good, but not outstanding efforts. It could be that he was successful in part because of the system and players he was playing with forced opposing teams to focus on other parts of the defence as opposed to Glatt. In 2008 for example, a certain Cameron Wake was wrecking havoc on offensive lines across the league and commanding special attention in the game planning of upcoming opponents. During the 2009 season, the BC Lions didn’t hesitate to pick up JoJuan Howard to take over as the full time starter for Glatt, and in the end, made Glatt expendable to the organization.

Taking all this into account, the signing of Glatt should certainly be viewed as a positive for the Green & Gold.  At the very least they have picked up a capable backup that can start and play well if needed, not to mention contribute on special teams. If Glatt returns to his 2006 and 2008 form, the Eskimos have made an astute roster move and Glatt will pair very nicely with Mo Lloyd at the MLB position for the 2010 squad.

Roster Review: Fullback

Fullback is perhaps one of the most unglamorous and under appreciated positions in all of sports. You basically get paid to take a beating each and every week with no glory or accolades. The Roster Review series continues today with a look at the current fullbacks on the Eskimos roster.

What the coaches might be looking for.

Fullback on CFL teams is traditionally a position always filled by Canadian talent and the Eskimos certainly don’t stray from the trend. Fullbacks are often called upon to fill multiple roles, from lead blocking, filling in at Tight End, and playing on all special teams. The Eskimos currently have three fullbacks signed to their roster and more than likely might add one or two more players at the position going into training camp if they can find a talented Canadian prospect or two. There shouldn’t be much turnover at the position as long as the current squad continues to produce as they so often do…under the radar.

Current Roster.

Mathieu Bertrand. The perennial CFLPA all-star will be back for the 2010 wearing his familiar #30 jersey. The special teams standout had a respectable season in 2009 despite missing three games due to injury. Bertrand is particularly useful on the offensive side of the ball as a receiving back as he gained 207 yards on 22 receptions, good for a 9.4 yards per completion average. He will once again be looked at as a leader on the Eskimos special teams, contributing where he can on offence.

Chris Ciezki. Ciezki earns his pay cheque on special teams, and the Green & Gold certainly get their monies worth out of what most would consider to be an under-sized fullback. With a non-stop motor, Ciezki has led the Eskimos special teams unit in tackles each of his two years since breaking into the league in 2008. Limited in his offensive chances due to the presence of the more talented Bertrand, Ciezki still provides the Eskimos with a reliable team player whose value is only ever truly appreciate once they move on.

Graeme Bell. Bell was signed as a free agent from Winnipeg prior to the 2009 to provide the Eskimos with a bit of depth at what was already a solid position. Bell started in three games in place of an injured Bertrand with unspectacular stats (1 carry, 6 yards, 3 receptions, 13 yards). Like the other fullbacks, Bell played a role on special teams where he netted 7 special teams tackles. Again, nothing spectacular, but Bell fills a need on the team both in having quality reliable depth and for his role on special teams. 

Changes???

The only roster move that I could foresee happening would be if a more talented prospect a fullback came to camp and outperformed Bell. It’s a longshot, but he is the only one of the three that the Eskimos could deem easily replaceable. Bertrand and Ciezki are not going anywhere for the time being because successful franchises simply do not cut all-stars in the prime of their career or leader in any positive statistical category. Then again, stranger things have happened, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Do YOU have what it takes?

The Eskimos announced the dates for their annual Open Tryouts in California this year and as soon as the Nation starts producing a couple of greenbacks, I will be commandeering a private jet down to Cali in my bid to make this year’s squad. The camps will be held at the College of San Meteo on Saturday, April 10th and at Long Beach City College on Sunday, April 11th. San Mateo what??? Long Beach where??? Not exactly open tryouts at USC or UCLA, but I guess in typical Canadian fashion, the Green & Gold decided to keep a low profile down south. Nonetheless, I will find these obscure little colleges, and in the spirit of Vince Papale, the special teams standout from the 1970s Philadelphia Eagles, I will run so fast that Richie Hall immediately cuts Arkee Whitlock, Tristan Jackson, and Lennie Williams so that your’s truly can play all three sides of the ball.  Wait..doesn’t the ball have four sides.  Now I’m confused.

In all seriousness, the open tryouts are one of the recruiting tools that CFL teams are forced to use to get exposure to players that might be willing to come up to the frigid north to ply their trade in the 3 down league. The tryouts in California produced two roster players in the form of middle linebacker Mark Restelli and receiver Jason Barnes. Not exactly household names, although Restelli was a full time starter for most of the season at MLB.

Expect anywhere from half a dozen to baker’s dozen of signings to come out of the two days down south however most of the players will be little more than camp fodder, if they even make it to Edmonton. Still, there is bound to be a gem out there somewhere, and it would greatly benefit the Eskimos to find it.

Roster Review: Running Back

Continuing with our Roster Review series, Running Back was a little bit of an odd position for the Eskimos in 2009 as they started out the season with an all Canadian tandem, which quickly changed to featuring an import that had a disastrous first appearance.  For a team that has lacked consistency at the position for a number of years, it was important to find the feature back that would allow the Eskimos to establish a potent running attack in the hopes of giving their all-star quarterback half a chance to succeed without defences simply pinning their ears back and letting loose on the passing game because the running game was not a threat.

What the coaches might be looking for.

Health. Jesse Lumsden was lost for the season in the first quarter of the home opener last year to yet another shoulder injury. This forced the organization to bring back training camp cut, Arkee Whitlock, to fill the void.  What should be noted about this move was that it was replacing a non-import with an import, which of course ment that another position where the team had decided to go with an import player, had to find a suitable Canadian to fill another spot in the line-up. Having healthy backs through the season is something the Eskimos need, which brings about a bunch of different questions regarding personnel for the running back position for the upcoming season.

Current Roster.

Jesse Lumsden. The all-Canadian golden boy has unfortunately been in more press clippings for his activities in the training room and on the Canadian bobsled team than for his exploits on the turf. Lumsden is a talented runner that can play the power-back game when healthy. Although he is reported to be recovering from the shoulder problems of the past, the organization might decide to take a pass on Lumsden coming out of training camp if there is even the slightest doubt about his ability to stay healthy for even a portion of the season. Yes, running backs certainly take a pounding in professional football, and injuries due occur, but there comes a time where if an athlete is prone to always getting hurt, it might be in the team’s best interest to move on.

Arkee Whitlock. After getting cut at the end of training camp and put on the reserve list, Whitlock was brought back to the active roster after the Lumsden injury for the team’s second game. And what a game it was. Whitlock could not squeeze the football and cost the Eskimos more than a few points. Coach Ritchie Hall however had confidence that Whitlock could still be a viable option and Whitlock played very well for the balance of the season collecting over 1,200 yards on the ground with a very respectable 6.3 yards per carry (YPC)  average. He also scored 12 touchdowns and should figure prominently into the Eskimos rushing attack for the 2010 season.

Calvin McCarty. Those who are true fans of the game can respect the value of a player like McCarty. A non-import who lined up as a running back, fullback, and tight end on offense, not to mention his contributions on the Eskimos special teams, McCarty could have a very bright future with the Green & Gold. He had modest stats on the season (67 carries, 348 yards, 5.2 average YPC, 5 TDs) as a back carrying the ball, yet combined with his receiving stats, it was still a productive season. McCarty has a tendancy to make great plays when the team really needs someone to make a difference on the field.  It wasn’t always a big play, but rather the type that makes a difference when you reflect back on a game and how it was one. It’s sufficient to say that McCarty earns his pay cheque.

Ramonce Taylor: Signed to the Eskimos practice roster in October of 2009, Taylor never saw active duty last season. The University of Texas product has had what can only be described as a difficult football career. He was dismissed from Texas after two seasons due to academic and legal troubles. From there he had stops in the Arena Football League and on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice squad before landing with the Eskimos. The one upside to Taylor is that he does possess some talent as he scored 15 touchdowns in Texas’ BCS Championship season of 2005.

Changes???

It should be a lock that McCarty and Whitlock will be back. They both were dangerous weapons last year and there is no reason to suspect that they won’t be even better this year. As for Lumsden, a lot will depend on what the doctors have to say and how he holds up during training camp and the exhibition season.  A Canadian running back with talent is hard to find and the Eskimos will give Lumsden all the opportunity in the world to come back and play a meaningful part of the 2010 team.  However if there is the slightest doubt in his health, the Green & Gold will probably choose to walk away from Lumsden. Taylor will most likely be in camp to compete for a roster spot, however the team will probably sign a few more running backs to bring to camp in the hopes of finding another gem like Whitlock that can make a positive difference in the running game. Looking ahead, at the start of the season, it would not be surprising to see both Lumsden and Taylor on the outside looking in.

Roster Review: Quarterback

A 9-9 season certainly leaves fans satisfied, but yearning for more. It’s a warm cup of coffee, a movie that you should have waited for to come out on DVD, or an slice of pie without the ice cream. You are not disappointed in what you had, but an upgrade would be nice.

Here at the Nation, we will be reviewing the Eskimos roster over the next couple of weeks, position by position, player by player. Who should the team keep, and who might need to be replaced. We will be taking into account not only a player’s on the field contributions, but also the general fit on the team.  Is he a leader? Is he someone with more to give.

Our first installment will look at the quarterback position. A spot where on paper, the Eskimos seem to be fairly strong and set heading into the 2010 season.  This was certainly a position of strength for the Green & Gold in 2009 as Ricky Ray continues to prove himself as one the very best in the CFL.

What the coaching staff might be looking for.

Continuity. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  As long as Ricky Ray is healthy, the most important piece of a successful football team is in good hands.  Even if Ray does happen to miss a couple of games, backups Jason Maas and Jared Zabransky provide good depth at the position. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Kevin Strasser approaches the season after having a full off-season to prepare the offensive game plan.  The benefit of having a training camp and pre-season to install the offensive systems will only help the Eskimos game managers.

Current Roster

 Ricky Ray. Ray is consistent if nothing else. Posting nearly 5,000 yards throwing in 2009, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, #15 has become a model of consistency for CFL quarterbacks. Although some fans have continued to call for Maas or Zabransky to be inserted into the game, there is no denying that the Eskimos stand their best chance at winning with Ray taking the snaps. His numbers don’t really change from year to year and if he finishes around the 5,000 yard mark with 25 touchdowns and under 15 picks, the Eskimos faithful should be thankful that “Frito” Ray plays for Edmonton.

Jason Maas: Maas is the CFL’s version of Charlie Batch (he of the Pittsburgh Steelers). Once a capable starter who knows his role as Ray’s number 2. Maas has a strong arm, an intense need to win, and provides a veteran insurance policy should Ray go down to injury. He is also a capable mentor for any younger quarterbacks in the organization. Although his numbers in 2009 were unspectacular (18-29, 235 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs), he remains a valuable asset to the organization for at least one more year.

Jared Zabransky. The golden boy from the 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Zabransky is looked at as the development quarterback of the organization.  Entering his second season with the Green & Gold, Zabransky should continue to learn the CFL game. He only appeared in one play for the Eskimos in 2009 where he pitched the ball to running back Calvin McCarty for a five yard game to open the September 20th game against Saskatchewan.  A little bit of a curious move, but the fact that he was even allowed on the field speaks volumes about the Eskimos confidence in him and his potential for the future. Hopefully Zabransky will see a few more snaps in 2009 as he continues to develop.

Changes???

My thought would be no. At least not for one more year. Maas will be 35 years old this year, so in all likelihood the organization will need to look at replacing him sometime in the future. As it stands however, this group is solid and should be able to provide the Eskimos with the leadership required from the position to have a winning team.