February 17, 2013

MacKinnon: Team-first credo key guideline for Eskimo general manager Hervey

Dale MacMillan

John MacKinnon
Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Ed Hervey is all-business and he’s discreet in the tradition of longtime Edmonton Eskimo general manager Hugh Campbell, as opposed to Hervey’s immediate predecessor.

So, it was a mild surprise to learn the club’s top football operations man is on Twitter, the massively popular Internet grapevine and informational free-for-all.

As you’d expect, Hervey has launched his account carefully, laconically — he follows just four accounts, but as word spread of his Twitter presence, his posse of followers ballooned from 18 to 275, and beyond.

It isn’t because Hervey is provocative or newsworthy. He has sent out just the one tweet so far.

To wit:

“In order to have a winner, the team must have a feeling of unity; every player must put the team first-ahead of personal glory.”

Mighty benign as Twitter fodder goes. Clearly, CFL free agency is no wild Twitter phenomenon, like its NHL analogue.

But that team-first credo is a key guideline for Hervey as he retools an already strong Eskimo lineup. And it’s a lock Hervey will let his actions do the talking as he renovates a solid but unfinished roster.

Still, few were expecting to see Hervey make a lightning-quick move as CFL free agency opened Friday with the Eskimos signing defensive end Odell Willis, the self-appointed Mayor of Swaggervile during his years in Winnipeg.

And so quickly, too — the deal was announced less than five minutes after rope dropped on the CFL free agency land rush.

Hervey knew what he wanted and was prepared to act as soon as the league permitted. It turns out the rookie GM played a little salary-cap nip-and-tuck to fit Willis on the roster.

“Every day is the same — have a plan and execute it,” Hervey said, with a smile.

Part of the plan is having a sure grasp of the CFL’s salary cap. Hervey had already traded talented but pricey tailback Jerome Messam to Montreal, freeing some cap space.

As well, both receiver Fred Stamps, whose contract was extended through 2014 earlier this week, and defensive back Chris Thompson, who re-signed with the Eskimos on Feb. 8, took pay cuts to provide cap flexibility. Not necessarily to sign Willis, but to make a free-agent splash.

Willis, who has recorded 40 quarterback sacks in his four-year CFL career, including 19 the past two seasons, and free-agent defensive back Marcell Young, who spent the last two seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, became pieces in Hervey’s roster upgrade Friday.

So did Canadian offensive lineman Alexander Krausnick, who played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2012.

It was Willis who called the Eskimos, handing them an opportunity too good to pass up. The price included not having enough salary-cap space to keep defensive back Weldon Brown, a solid performer the last three seasons.

There were sufficient funds to secure Young, who is expected to slot into the cornerback position held by the departed Rod Williams, and Krausnick, who will compete for a starting offensive line job with recently acquired Carson Rockhill.

The latter two both are former University of Calgary Dinos. A long-snapper, Krausnick is expected to compete for a job at centre.

The most compelling competition at training camp is expected to be at quarterback between the incumbent Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly, the would-be BC Lions’ free agent Hervey traded for and signed. Hervey has declared that veteran Kerry Joseph will be back to provide leadership and backup insurance. He also signed young quarterback Jacory Harris as a long-term project.

Thus has Hervey stabilized a position that was a revolving door of mediocrity last season. More important, Hervey acted decisively to turn the organizational page on the Ricky Ray trade fiasco.

Rather than lamenting a void left by a superstar, Eskimo fans now are anxious to see what Reilly and Nichols can do.

By finding cap room to add Willis, Hervey has assembled a formidable defensive line, one that includes the re-signed incumbents Marcus Howard and Brandon Lang at rush end, along with inside linemen Ted Laurent, Don Oramasionwu, Almondo Sewell and Etienne Legare.

“I see an opportunity for us to have one of the more dominant defensive lines that this league has seen in quite some time,” said Hervey, likening Willis to former Eskimo rush end Elfrid Peyton, both for his ability to get to the quarterback and his supposedly extravagant personality.

Neither Hervey nor head coach Kavis Reed believes Willis’s penchant for trash-talking and on-field celebrations will be an issue in Edmonton, where a strong, veteran locker room includes the likes of T.J. Hill, Joseph, Stamps and others.

Presumably, if Willis is unable to live by the words in Hervey’s tweet/credo about putting team ahead of personal glory, he won’t fit in. Hervey and Reed are convinced he’ll be fine. We’ll see.

Following Friday’s transactions, Hervey reckoned the Eskimos are done with free agency, although hardly done retooling the club. Still, by the end of the day on Friday, Hervey was smiling. He had reason to be.
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