February 13, 2014

Esks Sign Defensive Gem In Cornerback Watkins

Chris O’Leary

Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Eskimos’ objective in free agency, Ed Hervey said on Wednesday, wasn’t to cannonball into the pool. Instead, the Eskimos’ general manager wanted to keep things simple.

“The whole objective was to make sound decisions,” Hervey told reporters. “The objective was not to go and try to make a big splash. We were trying to improve our roster.”

Sometimes it’s not a bad thing when a plan goes sideways.

The Eskimos signed cornerback Pat Watkins on Wednesday morning, pulling the free agent out of Toronto and reuniting him with head coach Chris Jones.

The pair spent the past two years together, with Jones as Watkins’ defensive coordinator.

Watkins was an all-star in both of his years playing in Jones’ defence.

At six-foot-five and 205 pounds, the 31-year-old is in the prime of his career and a dominant player in the secondary. He had 110 tackles, 10 interceptions and two quarterback sacks in that span.

“The secondary, we felt we need to improve and we’re talking about Chris Jones and his style of defence: Aggressive, in-yourface man coverage,” Hervey said. “(Watkins) was one of the guys that we wanted to have and I think that the decision for all of us was a nobrainer to get him here. “Pat Watkins has a lot of ability. He can eliminate a wide receiver from the game and he’s tall, he’s rangy and he’s fast.”

A star receiver with the Eskimos in his playing days, Hervey was asked if he’d encountered a defender like Watkins in the CFL.

“I think the tallest I’d seen was about six-three, but if you’re six-three you can’t run as fast as me,” Hervey said, cracking a smile. “So once I got around you I had you, you had to get your hands on me.

“But a guy with his length, he’ll definitely pose problems for wide receivers. We’re expecting big things out of him.”

Eskimos fans should remember Watkins well. He left his mark all over the Argos’ win over Edmonton on Sept. 28. He had two interceptions in Toronto’s efforts to erase a 22-1 third-quarter deficit, and made the gamechanging play with over three minutes on the clock. He sacked Kerry Joseph and recovered a fumble on Edmonton’s five-yard line.

“He impacted our game here with a sack and fumble. He’s a playmaker, those are the type of guys we’re looking for,” Hervey said.

“You’ve got to be able to play fast, you’ve got to be able to play man-to-man and aggressive and he’s one of a few guys that … come in and change the complexion of our secondary.”

A few hours after his news conference, Hervey inked another contract, this time signing non-import wide receiver Akeem Foster.

The 27-year-old spent four years with the B.C. Lions, making 61 catches for 949 yards and nine touchdowns, before being traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2013. In Winnipeg, Foster played in four games, making just five catches for 35 yards.

The move is a step toward filling the void left by a pair of Esks free-agent departures on Tuesday, in non-import receiver Matt Carter, who signed with Ottawa, and import receiver Cary Koch, who took a two-year deal with Hamilton.

Hervey pointed to Marcus Henry as a replacement for Koch, while noting the strong play of slotbacks Adarius Bowman and Fred Stamps this past year.

One free agent that Hervey would like to keep is defensive tackle Ted Laurent. While the 26-year-old is hoping his three-year resume with Edmonton (73 tackles, 11 sacks in 45 games) is enough to land him a job in the NFL, the Eskimos and a number of other CFL suitors are waiting to see how that works out.

Hervey’s interest in linebacker Damaso Munoz leans in the opposite direction.

Coming off of back-to-back seasons with 88 tackles, Hervey said flat out on Wednesday that the 27-yearold won’t be back with the Eskimos.

“He’s not in the picture, but we wish him well,” Hervey said.

Elaborating on his lack of interest, he pointed to Munoz’s role as will (or weakside) linebacker.

“I’ve said this in the past, that the will linebacker position is one that we’ve always felt we can replace,” he said. “Simoni Lawrence (who signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday) was an exceptional player and we moved him from there and Damaso, now it’s the same.

“This is a position that we feel very confident that we can fill and … not necessarily need to invest in that position. Damaso has been an excellent player for us and I’m sure wherever he ends up he’ll do a good job for them.

“Going into this free agency, when we started talking about how we’re going into this plan, protecting the quarterback was No. 1. “Import linebackers, especially at the will position, no offence to the guys out there that are all stars, but that’s one of those positions that in Edmonton we feel we can replace.”