May 25, 2019

Eskimos open CFL pre-season Sunday

Esks staff /

Like many of the Eskimos’ veteran players, quarterback Trevor Harris and receiver Greg Ellingson may not get much playing time in Sunday’s 2 p.m. CFL pre-season opener against the BC Lions.

Regardless of how much time they are allotted, it will certainly be more enjoyable than the last time they played at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.

Harris and Ellingson played for the Ottawa RedBlacks in last year’s Grey Cup game against the Calgary Stampeders.

“Commonwealth has always been a fun place to play,” Harris said. “The last time I played here wasn’t so fun, obviously, with the Grey Cup (a 27-16 loss to the Stampeders). But we plan to focus ourselves and rectify that in some form or fashion this year.

Both players are looking forward to playing half of their games at The Brick Field.

“I’ve had fond memories of being in the stadium,” Ellingson said. “It’s fun to play in.”

Ellingson, who has lined up at slotback during training camp, has been a 1,000-yard receiver each of the last four years but hasn’t had any monster performances at The Brick Field. He has a total of 23 catches for 347 yards over six games (only two wins), with his best outing five receptions for 96 yards with Ottawa in 2016.

“It’s different now when it’s your home field, and you’re fighting for the city, the fans, the coaches and your teammates when you’re living here during the season,” he said.

Harris has certainly had some good moments playing in Edmonton. He completed 17 of 19 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns after replacing an injured Henry Burris with 8:12 left in the third quarter in 2016, hooking up with receiver Chris Williams for a 71-yard pass-and-run touchdown on his very first play.

He also completed 21 of 26 passes for 291 yards and a TD last season. Overall, he is 82 of 107 passing with five majors at Commonwealth Stadium since 2014.

“In a minimum of 100 attempts, he’s the most accurate quarterback in the history of the CFL, so he completes balls,” Maas said.

“It’s always been a place that I’ve looked forward to playing at just because of the historic feel of Commonwealth, and the history of the Edmonton Eskimos is really what you hear about with Warren Moon and everybody like that,” said Harris. “Getting a chance to play for this amazing franchise is not something I’ll ever take lightly or take for granted. I’m going to wake up every single day and do my best to outwork everybody across the entire league.”

Pre-season games come quickly

The Eskimos will play their first pre-season game one week into training camp after only five days of hard work, including two sessions wearing full pads, and their second game five days later at Winnipeg (6:30 p.m. start on Friday, May 31st). Listen live on 630 CHED.

They had a light 40-minute workout Friday morning followed by a walk-through session typical of the day before a game on Saturday.

“We play a game on Sunday,” Head Coach Jason Maas pointed out. “We want our guys to be mentally and physically prepared to play.”

The Eskimos will get only two more training camp practices and another walk-through session before the game with the Blue Bombers.

Neither of Edmonton’s pre-season games will be televised on TSN.

“We will play our starters sparingly during the pre-season because it’s such a short (training) camp,” said Maas, who has to figure out which of the 54 newcomers among the 94 players in training camp can be productive players in the CFL. “We’re playing two pre-season games within 11 days of camp.”

If any CFL team can overcome such a difficult schedule, it’s the Eskimos.

“Players who come from different teams say we work hard during practice and I like that,” said defensive end Kwaku Boateng. “I like that work ethic we have instilled here. I’m used to that. It’s all I know.”

Maas isn’t worried that a lack of playing time during pre-season games will mean his veterans won’t be game-ready when the regular season opens with a home contest on June 14th against the Montreal Alouettes. The Esks will have a full week of training camp practices after their second pre-season game plus another week to prepare for their season-opener.

“They will get the (repetitions) they need,” Maas said about his veterans. “They get a lot of reps during practice, so they’re going to be ready for the season.”

“It’s up to the coaches how long we’re going to be out there, but I look forward to it,” Ellingson said. “It’s good to knock the rust off and get out there and smack your pads around a little bit and make some catches and plays.”

Ellingson liked what he saw from the offence early in training camp.

“It was good to get out here and communicating with the different players that I haven’t played with as far as the receiver corps goes,” he said. “The guys look good. It’s going to be exciting to go out there and showcase what we have.”

Meanwhile, Harris has been impressed with the play of the Eskimos defence in training camp.

“They’re fast, and they’re going to be physical,” he said. “We’ve got some pass-rushers. We’ve got speed at the linebacker position. Jovon (Santos-Knox) is a special player, and Don (Unamba) is obviously really good.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen a group of DBs (defensive backs) this deep that are this good,” Harris continued. “We’ve got 10 or 11 guys who can start in any defensive backfield. There’s some high-level competition, and those guys are going to raise their level of play because of that.

“I’m really looking forward to watching our defence create turnovers for us this year.”

Injury knocks Rogers out of lineup

Offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a torn left tricep muscle earlier this week.

It’s a big blow for the Eskimos, who were counting on Rogers to anchor the left corner on the offensive line. Harris helped recruit Rogers, a former CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award winner, and Ellingson when he signed with the Eskimos on the first day of free agency. Rogers has protected Harris’s blind side the last four years.

The Eskimos have three international offensive tackles in training camp – right tackle Colin Kelly, Tommie Draheim (who played left tackle last season) and Andrew Peterson – plus 2019 second-round draft pick Kyle Saxelid might as well be one, too. Saxelid, who is six-foot-seven and weighs 290 pounds, played left tackle in college at UNLV. He is considered a national player only because his mother was born in Canada, but had never set foot in this country until earlier this year.

Also, nine-year national veteran Matt O’Donnell, who usually plays right guard, played 14 consecutive games at left tackle last year after Draheim was injured in the season opener.