Archive for August, 2010

Are the Esks after Newman?

 

The Edmonton Journal’s Mario Annicchiarico tweeted a comment this morning about the return of Jesse Newman to the Calgary Stampeders and how the Esks are one of several teams rumoured to be exploring trade options with the Stamps to acquire the offensive linemen. The other two teams with rumoured interest include the BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That the three worst teams in the league would be interested in acquiring the soon-to-be 28-year-old is not exactly earth shattering news. Newman has started in the CFL and one would imagine that missing half a season is not exactly going to slow him down over the long run.

So should the Esks be going after Jesse Newman? Of course they should.

The real question is what would they be willing to give up in return for the non-import guard?

Do they dangle what could be a potential top three pick in the 2011 CFL Draft? Throw together a package deal of prospects? Or trade way an established veteran? And while we are asking questions, when does the asking price become too high?

Trading away a first round pick in the upcoming draft might be a little steep of price to pay. The Esks should be acquiring draft picks, not getting rid of them. The team looks like it might be able to cash in on up to 75% of its picks from the 2010 draft with Saleem Borhot and Corbin Sharun already on the team and defensive tackle Brian Bulcke all but assured of making the team next year once he finishes his college career at Stanford. Those types of results are not typical and losing a first round pick might be a little steep for the Esks in the long run.

Putting together a package of players would also probably be difficult given the Eskimos current roster situation. The team could send one of their offensive line prospects to Calgary together with an import, but the Esks really can’t afford to give away much in the way of depth as injuries to starters have forced them to go out and resign early season cuts like Randee Drew and Tremayne Kirkland to fill roster spots. It’s doubtful that the Stamps would be interested in the lower end of the Esks roster, so that could kill that possibility.

As for trading an established veteran, who could they get rid of that wouldn’t be missed on the roster? Again, it’s the question of the team not having enough depth at key positions to contemplate sending an established play maker down Highway 2 to the number one team in the CFL.

In all the talk about Newman being potential trade bait, let’s not forget that the Stamps have a few lineman with high millage counts on their odometers. Dan Comiskey, despite playing great football this year, is still 38-years-old and won’t be around much longer. Rob Lazeo is 37-years-old and retirement after this season is a possibility. Having Newman ready to slot in beside center Tim O’Neil and guard Dmitri Tsoumpas would solidify the Stamps interior line for the next five years at the very least and it might be tempting for them just to juggle their roster and hang on to what is a valuable commodity in the CFL.

The Esks are not in a bad spot when it comes to non-import interior linemen with Kyle Koch, Aaron Fiaconni, and Patrick Kabongo all very capable with lots of miles to go before they start thinking about hanging up the cleats. That being said, adding another potential starter to the mix would not be a bad idea. Stay tuned.

Ray still "The Man"

 As promised earlier, here are some thoughts regarding the Eskimos quarterback situation and what should still be a non-issue for the team heading into the Labour Day Classic in Calgary. It’s been interesting to see how no one is really going full out on the Jared Zabransky train anymore after his performance on Saturday night. Yes, he did do some things well, but Zabransky is still moving up what is proving to be a very steep learning curve and being given full control of the offense appears to be something that will be pushed back at least for the immediate future.

Looking at the statistical performances between Ricky Ray and Zabransky against the Roughriders, it’s easy to see how much Zabransky still has to learn before he can become the next starter of the Eskimos. While Zabransky did rack up 109 passing yards and another 40 yards using his feet, his effectiveness as a quarterback was not even in the same league as Ray. He did have one touchdown pass and two interceptions, which if you cancel out a score for a pick, stacks him favourably against Ray in that each was minus one interception on the day. The two key stats for quarterbacks, however, are completion percentage and yards per attempt, which while directly correlated sometimes can show a great disparity between an effective signal caller and one who needs more work.

In Saturday’s game, Zabransky was 8-17 in passing, giving him a completion percentage of only 47%. He made some big plays, but there were too many incompletions to be consistently effective. His yards per attempt average was 6.41, lower than the 6.71 he had already posted in limited action this year. Ray, by contrast, although only completing 55% of his passes (which is quite a bit lower than is 67% rate for the season), and having a yards per attempt of only 5.72 for the game, showed why he is still the best quarterback for the Esks with a solid performance in the fourth quarter. When the game was on the line, Ray went 4-5 for 47 yards, good for a yards per attempt average of 9.40.

Make no mistake about it, Zabransky is an intriguing prospect for the Esks, and with time, may very well be a starting quarterback that can win in the CFL. His ability to run the football certainly influenced the Saskatchewan defense and gave the Eskimos some life. That being said, when the pressure mounted and the Esks needed to get points on the board, Ray was the guy to make the throws. How this plays out over the rest of season will be interesting to watch and the Esks could very well be back to using a two quarterback system like they did with Ray and Jason Maas en-route to the 2005 Grey Cup. Each quarterback brings something different to the table, but with the game on the line, Ray is the man for the Esks.

Monday Morning Long Snapper

Zabransky looked good, but Ray is still the man

When is came time to decide the fate of Saturday’s game, the Esks turned to their veteran leader to get the job done. The debate which has raged over who should be starting at quarterback for the team should at least be given a rest. Despite an admirable performance by Zabransky, who came on in relief of Ray, the guy who got the job done and who posted the better stats was number 15. We’ll break down the performances of the quarterbacks later, but for now, let’s just be glad that we have both Ray and Zabransky on the team.

Darian Durant

Last week, in the run up to the game against the Riders, we commented on how if Darian Durant were forced into making some turnovers, the Esks could win the game. Well folks, the Esks secondary took advantage of one of the biggest risk takers at quarterback in the CFL and made him pay. Three picks by Durant usually means a Roughriders loss and Saturday was not the exception to the rule.

The Maurice Lloyd Factor

Another item touched on last week was how Maurice LLoyd needed to be a factor in the game, and although he wasn’t the biggest playmaker on the defensive side of the ball for the Esks, he did contribute and led what was a very tough unit. His three tackles and one interception might not have been enough on their own to help the Esks win what amounted to a defensive struggle, but he set the tone and made plays which only helped to inspire his teammates.

Defensive standouts

TJ Hill, Rod Davis, and Kai Ellis certainly earned their pay-cheques on Saturday. Hill has six defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, and one interception while Davis replicated those numbers minus the inteception. Ellis meanwhile had five tackles, two quarterback sacks, and a forced fumble. Going into Calgary next week against the best team in the CFL, who also leads the league in scoring, it will be incumbent upon these three veterans to once again step up and make an impact.

Big weekend for the Food Bank

Thank you to all those who brought down an item or donated cash to the Edmonton Food Bank. This is the one charity where almost everyone could eventually find themselves using at one point in their life and your generosity is making a difference in the lives of your fellow Edmontonians and Esks fans. The Food Bank reported that they received about 6,000 kilograms of food at the game along with about $22,000. Considering that Food Banks have been reported to be able to stretch dollars where a $1 donation can buy up to five kilograms of food, Edmonton should be proud of lending a helping hand. Just a reminder though, just because the Esks drive is over doesn’t mean you can’t keep making a monthly donation.

Esks Game Day #8

Tackle Hunger

Normally on Esks Game Day posts we talk about how the Esks stack up against the opposition and what keys match-ups might be worth watching during the upcoming game. Not the case today. You can still read about the game below, but first I want you to complete a little exercise. It will only take a minute and you can help to make a difference.

First of all, think about the last non-perishable food item you selected from your cupboard for you to eat. Was it peanut butter, a breakfast cereal, macaronni and cheese, or tuna for your sandwich?

Second step. Do you have another unopened container of said item in your cupboard. It’s okay. Go and look. We won’t be going anywhere.

Third, remove that item from your cupboard, or in the absence of it, pick something else. Put it beside your ticket to the Esks game this evening and bring it with you.

Thank you all for your help. EsksNation.ca will be supporting the local bank today, hopefully you can as well. For further details, please click on the following link. You can also support the Edmonton Food Bank by going here.

Photos courtesy of the Edmonton Food Bank.

Esks vs. Riders

It’s a rivalry that has fans up in arms in a friendly sort of way as followers of Rider Nation have been making their presence felt in Commonwealth Stadium over the past few years. Adding fuel to the fire, the “Billboard Wars” between the two teams have added another layer in a battle of the humorous barbs outside of Commonwealth where for years Saskatchewan has posted some friendly jabs at Green & Gold fans. The Esks of course responded with one of their own this year and the entertainment factor of the rivalry almost makes the actual football game an after thought. Almost.

With an anticipated crowd of well over 50,000 expected to attend tonight’s game, the atmosphere around Commonwealth should be animated to say the least. Rider fans will certainly be brining the noise and it will be up to the followers of the Green & Gold to respond in kind. Anyway you slice it, it should be loud at the game.

Esks win if…

Despite their record, the Esks have a very real chance to beat the Riders. If they can force Darian Durant to throw interceptions, that will take care of one part of the equation. On offence, the Esks will need to expose the weaknesses in the Saskatchewan secondary and finish off drives with touchdowns.

Riders win if…

The Esks have a very leaky run defense this year and if Wes Cates is allowed to run free, the Esks don’t stand a chance. On defense, with Fred Stamps out of the lineup, if Saskatchewan can render Arkee Whitlock ineffective, they should be able to shut down the Esks offense.

Even teams

In their last four meetings, the Eskimos and Roughriders have split the games right down the middle with each team getting two wins. In those four games, the largest margin of victory was five points, when the Esks beat the Riders 38-33 in Regina back on July 25, 2009.

Details

Saturday, August 28th 5:00 pm MST @ Commonwealth Stadium (don’t forget the Food Bank donation)

Weather Forecast: +10. Variable cloudiness.

The Maurice Lloyd Factor

The above video shows the best and worst of the Eskimos Maurice Lloyd. When he’s out on the football field making plays and delivering big hits, he is undoubtedly one of the best linebackers currently patrolling a CFL defence. After the whistle is when Lloyd seems to almost get in the way of his own success, never shying away from a microphone and always willing to speak his mind. It’s speaking his mind and not being shy that seems be getting him into a little bit of hot water with other players, and folks in other organizations are starting to take notice.

During the bye week there was quite a bit of discussion about a comment made by a local media scribe about Lloyd being a cancer in  the Eskimos dressing room due not to his play on the field, but his words after the whistle had blown. While those words may seem a little harsh and over the top, a recent interview by Rod Pedersen on his blog with Wes Cates regarding Lloyd shed some light on what could still be a cause for concern by the Esks faithful.

Courtesy Rod Pedersen’s blog (http://rodpedersen.blogspot.com/2010/08/wes-talks-about-mo.html)

Rider tailback Wes Cates spoke Wednesday about lining up against Eskimos middle linebacker Maurice Lloyd on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

CATES: It’s always fun playing against Mo. He’s always been a talker, I like that, and I think every defense needs someone who runs their mouth. Obviously he’s been doing too much of it lately but that’s neither here nor there. I enjoy playing against him, I enjoyed playing with him. Mo’s a competitor and he always shows up to play so it should be fun.

ME: Mo’s been called a “cancer”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t he a leader on defense on that 2007 Grey Cup team?

CATES: I always appreciated Mo. A guy that talks, well there’s going to be times that people want him to shut-up. You know you need vocal leaders and guys that jaw a little bit and get guys going. I guess maybe he’s over-stepped his bounds a little bit, but whatever. He’s been cool with me, so whatever.

The above, if true, creates a little bit of dilemma for the Esks as Lloyd is arguably the team’s defensive leader. That being said, a leader who is perhaps alienating the rest of the locker room cannot lead the team because no one will follow him. The best result for everyone would probably be for Lloyd to no longer be the quote machine for the Esks. Everyone can respect what he brings on the field and if he continues to be one of the Esks best defensive players, the players he needs to lead should fall in line.

Regardless of what has been said over the past couple of weeks, Lloyd will play a big part in the fortunes of the Esks this Saturday when they square off against the Riders. For some reason, playing against his former team brings out the best in the Esks middle linebacker as he has collected 19 tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble in four games. He’s hoping that Lloyd does exactly what he said he needs to do this weekend. No more talking, just play some football.

Esks quarterbacks? It's a non-issue.

The Esks quarterback situation has been debated on the local radio shows, fan boards, and newspapers for the past week after Ricky Ray went down in the team’s final game before the bye week. Some are calling for Jared Zabransky to be inserted as the starter while others feel that if Ray is completely ready to go, the Esks should start veteran Jason Maas. Facing one of the top teams in the west this weekend when the Saskatchewan Roughriders roll into town with their legions of Rider Priders, and needing a victory in the worst of ways, it’s an interesting topic for debate with a relatively simple answer.

If Ricky Ray is healthy and the Esks still have a shot at making the playoffs, Ricky Ray should be the starting quarterback.

Winning football games is made much easier when a team has their best players on the field. Despite the struggles of the offense this year in getting the ball into the endzone, Ricky Ray is still the best quarterback on the Eskimos roster. His body of work in the CFL, which was previously discussed here, almost forces the Eskimos to keep going with Ray as their starter. In seven games this year, he has only thrown five interceptions on 209 pass attempts. It can be argued that Ray hasn’t done enough to win games for the Green & Gold this year, but he has not been responsible for them losing games with perhaps the lose to Montreal as an exception where he could at least be somewhat faulted for a couple of costly picks.

Eventually the Eskimos will need to find out what they truly have in Zabransky, but as long as the post-season is still a consideration, both the team and the fans will have to wait to see if the young quarterback is as good as everyone hopes he can be. In limited duty this year, Zabransky has thrown for 121 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His completion percentage is 50% and his yards per attempt comes in at a pedestrian 6.72. Considering that the top five quarterbacks in the league all sport completion percentages 60% and yards per attempt averages above 7.89, its a legitimate statement that Zabransky still has a way to go before he can be a top quarterback in the CFL.

As for the Maas fans out there, he is a capable backup that can run an offense effectively if Ray is not healthy enough to play. That being said, Maas is the backup for a reason. At this point in their careers, Ray is the better player.

Fans are always intrigued by the possibility of prospects. It’s why Oilers fans packed Clareview arena to watch the likes of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle play in a prospects camp. It’s also why the both the NFL and CFL televise their drafts. In the weeks leading up to the CFL draft, every CFL fan worth his salt knew all about Shomari Williams (his stat line for the season by the way is four defensive tackles and four special teams tackles).  However, when a team is still trying to fight for a playoff spot, which the Eskimos are despite their record, the organization has to go with its best players. And in this case it’s Ricky Ray.

CFL Roundup 16.0

CIS blog

Last week here on EsksNation.ca, we put together a little bit of prospect watch list of players eligible for the 2011 CFL Draft. For those of you who want to keep track of some of those prospects playing in Canada, CISblog.ca provides pretty decent coverage of all things CIS. They are currently doing season previews of the football teams, so it might be worth keeping an eye on.

A look at the standing and the three bottom feeders

As we approach the halfway point in the season, it’s interesting to see the difference between the teams at the top of each division and the the bottom feeders. In the west, the Eskimos and Lions have combined for a total of two wins. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are not doing much better in the east, although they have won one more game than either of the western basement dwellers. One has to go back to 1996 to find a season in the CFL where three teams showed an aptitude for losing in such dramatic fashion and kept up the dreadful pace for a full season. In case you were wondering which teams were that bad, the BC Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders each collected 10 points in the standings that year while the Ottawa Rough Riders earned a measly six.

NFL going the way of the CFL

It sounds like the NFL is finally going to get smart about reducing their pre-season down to two games and implementing an 18 game schedule. CFL teams have been doing it for years and even with a reduced work schedule, they still manage to play a highly entertaining brand of football in July. The NFL will quickly realize that they can work on an abbreviated training camp and pre-season and the fans will be grateful to not have to sit through a month of watching fourth stringers bash heads.

Migration north continues

Speaking of the NFL, players who have temporarily had their NFL dreams come to crashing halt are continuing to make their way north of the border. Among the notables signed by CFL teams in the past week is former 2004 first round draft choice Ahmad Carroll, who despite coming out of Arkansas as a pretty close to can’t miss prospect, has failed to keep himself employed in the NFL.

Coldest game ever?

While surfing around the net, looking for other items of interest, I came across what could be the coldest football game ever played. The entire game is loaded on to Youtube and watching the clips actually makes you shiver just a little. This was back when football players were tough.