Through three weeks, the Edmonton Eskimos are the surprise of the CFL, especially since their offence is leading the way.
One of those people not surprised is the man who designed that offence and calls the plays.
But rookie offensive co-ordinator Marcus Crandell’s instant success with Ricky Ray and Co. has to be considered one of the biggest stories in the league.
“After the first few days of training camp, I had high expectations,” said Crandell, whose Eskimos face the Calgary Stampeders Saturday night at McMahon Stadium.
“With a lot of new players, some people would say this is better than expected. Having a quarterback always helps. It’s gone the way I expected.”
Crandell is in an exclusive but somewhat large club within the CFL. He’s one of four former Stampeders quarterbacks currently drawing a paycheque as an offensive co-ordinator.
The others are Dave Dickenson (Calgary), Khari Jones (Hamilton) and Scott Milanovich (Montreal).
But it wasn’t until after Crandell left the Stampeders in 2004 following two wild and crazy years under the Michael Feterik ownership reign that he thought about coaching.
Crandell played another three and half seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (helping that team win a Grey Cup in 2007) before retiring and joining the coaching staff in 2009.
When Kavis Reed took over the head-coaching duties in Edmonton this off-season, he tabbed Crandell to run his offence.
It’s a reunion of former Riders in Edmonton, as GM Eric Tillman and Reed were both with Crandell in Regina.
Although the Eskimos struggled offensively last season, Crandell was excited to take over this group and inherit Ray.
“The first thing I said, and we were all in agreement (coach Reed and GM Tillman), we need to keep him upright,” Crandell said. “Protecting him was our first and foremost thought. Then we can worry about moving the ball downfield.”
In the first three weeks of the season, Ray has a 130.4 passer rating and he’s yet to throw an interception.
The Eskimos are getting great work from an offensive line that in the past struggled to slow down defence rushes.
Ray has had several different co-ordinators in the past few years, but he’s found a comfort zone with Crandell.
“His personality is like mine. He’s even-keel. He doesn’t get upset, too high or too low,” Ray said.
“That’s been nice to work with. He has a good mind for the game. Being an ex-quarterback, he knows what we’re going through out there. He keeps it balanced for us and puts us in good situations.”
The Eskimos are the only team to have more rushing attempts than passing attempts, and they lead the league in rushing yards, which certainly helps give the quarterback time and space.
Over the past couple of years, Crandell has an idea of what he would do if he would ever become an offensive co-ordinator, and in three games that plan has come through in spades.
“This is an expansion of a lot of things I’ve learned in the past,” Crandell said. “I’ve put it together and the guys have taken to it.
“They are thinking out there. Every week, there is something different. I give them the scouting report and they apply it to the field.”