Roll up your sleeves

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Danny Maciocia was back in the office yesterday.

It's a place the Montreal-born Maciocia hasn't spent much time in since taking over as Edmonton Eskimos head coach in early December.

Clearly, the rookie head coach has his work cut out for him at this point.

The deadline for signing free agents is Feb. 15 and the Green and Gold have eight players from last year's team a scant seven days away from hitting the market.

Running back Mike Pringle still hasn't said yea or nay to retirement. That decision is expected next week.

Then there's the more pressing matter of hiring a defensive co-ordinator to replace Greg Marshall. Toward that end, Maciocia has narrowed the list of candidates to three and expects to announce Marshall's successor within the next couple of weeks.

Maciocia confirmed former Winnipeg head coach Dave Ritchie is one of the group.

He declined to identify Don Wnek, formerly of Montreal and Hamilton, and Mike Roach, a victim of the recent Calgary purge, as the others.

"I want to get it done as soon as possible but I don't want to rush into it and not have the right guy in place," said Maciocia, who guided Team Canada to a gold-medal finish at the NFL Global Junior Championship in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend.

By turning down the defensive line coach job dangled by Wally Buono in B.C., Ritchie appears to be the front-runner here.

Ultimately, getting a defensive co-ordinator in place won't be as time-consuming as retaining all the free agents.

Pringle, receivers Ed Hervey and Scott Robinson, running back Troy Mills, return specialist/receiver Winston October, backup quarterback Bart Hendricks, defensive end Rahim Abdullah and offensive lineman Carlo Panaro are likely free agents.

Abdullah is rumoured to have worked out for two or three NFL clubs. Winnipeg is reportedly interested in Hervey. Like Pringle, Mills and Panaro are good bets to retire, while October, Robinson and Hendricks are likely to move on.

According to GM Paul Jones, the organization has been in contact with the team's free agents, but no deals are imminent.

"I don't think anybody is not in a hurry to sign," Jones said. "I just think some of them are waiting to see what happens and to talk to us when the time comes nearer. You'd like to get them signed before free agency, but sometimes it doesn't work like that."

While there's plenty to choose from when the doors on the free-agent market swing open, there's more journeymen than impact players available for the picking.

Naturally, Maciocia would like to re-sign all the Esks who played out their option. But he's not going to lose any sleep if that doesn't happen.

The interior of the defensive line is one area the Green and Gold are going to have to shore up.

Quarterback is another position the Esks are going to have to strengthen. With Hendricks all but gone, Jason Johnson could emerge as the No. 2 and leave Maciocia looking for a third-stringer.

The Esks are sure to express more than mild interest in Montreal's non-import offensive lineman Sherko Haji-Rasouli.

Although the CFL club banked $10.5 million US for the sale of the Pacific Coast League Edmonton Trappers, Maciocia says the Esks won't toss a whole lot of green and gold around to acquire free agents.

"Listening to Paul Jones and the way he's working at it right now, I believe we're going to have some quality players come to camp," he said. "There's no reason we can't get it done with the guys that he's going to bring in.

"I'm very comfortable where we are right now. That doesn't necessarily mean that we won't be active if we feel like we need to be. Right now, we're staying the course."


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