Five Positions to Watch

After going through the exercise of reviewing each position on the Eskimos offence and defence, there are certain positions that can be more easily identified as keys to Green & Gold success this year.  Most football fans know that to win consistently, a team must have good quarterback play, a strong offensive line, and the ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. With the Eskimos, quarterback is not really a position to watch because the organization knows what it has in Ricky Ray. He is a consistent performer that matches up with any other quarterback in the league. This list is more about positions where the results produced need to get better, new personnel have been inserted into the equation, or questions remain about if last year’s performance can be repeated.

1. Defensive Back.

There were too many games where the defensive backs were burnt by receivers getting behind them, or in the case of Geroy Simon on October 9th, failed to tackle a receiver after the catch. While Ricky Ray was busy torching the opposition, the Eskimos defence surrendered the most passing yards against in the league last year. Opposing teams put up an average of 285 yards per game in the air. That’s a lot of yards. They also failed to record a single interception through the first nine games of the season. Surprisingly enough, the Green & Gold ended the year with a total of 19 picks, good for 4th in the league. Despite the improvement at the end of the year, that nine game stretch was inexcusable. Give Danny Machocia for addressing this need early in the off-season.

2. Defensive End.

By no means did Kai Ellis and Greg Peach have bad seasons in 2009, they just didn’t get to the quarterback often enough. They combined for a grand total of 12 sacks on the season, and when compared to the top two players off of the Saskatchewan and Montreal, it becomes quite clear why those two teams made it to the Grey Cup while the Eskimos were sitting at home. In Montreal, John Bowman and Anwar Stewart combined for 21 sacks on the season while Stevie Baggs and John Chick sacked the opposing quarterback 23 times. If the Eskimos want to play in the Grey Cup in Edmonton, improved sack totals are a must.

3. Safety

With the retirement of Scott Gordon and the Eskimos current commitment to start a non-import at the position, it will be crucial for one of Jason Nugent, Elliot Richardson, or Saleem Borhot to step up and become not only a starter but a difference maker. In seven games last year, Gordon had 13 tackles, 3 knockdowns, and 2 interceptions. Getting half of that type of production from the new starter will be key to the Eskimos improving against the pass in 2010. If the middle of the field is weak, opposing quarterbacks will know where to go.

4. Running Back

Arkee Whitlock, after a disastrous first CFL start in week 2, shook off the performance and rushed for over 1,200 yards on the season, good for third in the league. He also finished with 13 touchdowns which was good for second in the league behind Avon Cobourne of Montreal. The question here is whether Whitlock can bring it like that again, or is he a one year wonder? Whitlock was fairly consistent in his performances throughout the season, so conventional wisdom would say that the Green & Gold could expect similar production from the young back. On the other hand, the sophomore slump is called the sophomore slump for a reason. It will be interesting to see how fast Whitlock comes out of the gate at the start of the 2010 season.

5. Kick Returner

If Tristan Jackson is fully recovered from the leg injury that forced him out of the lineup at the end of last year, this position can be removed from the list. Jackson’s ability to take every kickoff or punt back for a major certainly caused problems for opposing specialty teams player. If he has lost that half step of quickness he always seems to have on his pursuers, Ricky Ray and the rest of the Eskimos offense might be looking at a lot different type of starting field position then they are usually used to when Jackson is on his game. His punt return average of 10.6 yards per return led the league for players with more than 20 returns on the year.

Final Thoughts

With the exception of the defensive backs, none of the positions mentioned above played poorly last year; however, all need to either maintain high levels of execution in 2010 or increase their output if the Eskimos want to make a serious run at the Grey Cup. The addition of new personel to the lineup, especially on defence, will be interesting to watch in camp and the preseason.


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