Esks upbeat despite losing key players

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

If Danny Maciocia has concerns about the health of his quarterbacks, the new Edmonton Eskimos head coach hid them well yesterday.

Incumbent Jason Maas is returning from off-season shoulder surgery and former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Khari Jones suffered a mysterious shoulder ailment all last season.

"(Maas) threw the ball on Sunday and he said it was as close to 100% as he could get," Maciocia said during a state-of-the-franchise teleconference call. "I can guarantee you that he is coming to camp and I hope he picks up where he left off last year because I thought he had a great season."

Maas completed 361 of 549 passes for 5,270 yards and 31 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions last year.

Jones never did look like his old self last season and Winnipeg eventually dealt him to Calgary. After the CFL season ended, there were rumblings that Jones would also need surgery. The Stampeders released Jones after they picked up free agent quarterback Henry Burris. With the health of Maas in doubt, the Eskies then snapped up Jones.

SHOULDER 100%

"Before he signed a contract with us, we had him checked out by our doctors and they said his shoulder was 100%, probably for the first time in a long time," said Maciocia, who was promoted from offensive co-ordinator after Tom Higgins was fired.

Either one of those pivots will have to guide an offence that has suffered some significant losses. Future hall-of-fame running back Mike Pringle and veteran centre Tim Prinsen retired, veteran slotback Terry Vaughn was traded to Montreal and veteran offensive lineman Dan Comiskey was dealt to Hamilton. But Edmonton did acquire veteran O-lineman Sandy Anunziata from Toronto and signed free agent fullback Mike Maurer (Ottawa).

"It's hard to replace a legend, a hall-of-famer like Pringle," Maciocia admitted. "That tailback spot will be wide-open at training camp. We do want to be multi-dimensional."

The defensive side of the ball looks more improved, despite losing defensive linemen Rahim Abdullah (Calgary) and Kelvin Kinney (AFL). Edmonton acquired veteran rush end Joe Montford from Hamilton, safety Will Loftus from Montreal and signed such free agents as defensive lineman Tim Fleizer (Ottawa), cornerback Davis Sanchez (Montreal) and Kelly Wiltshire (Ottawa). They will join such mainstays as linebacker Singor Mobley and defensive back Malcolm Frank.

"We got a known pass rusher and we want to control that line of scrimmage as much as possible," Maciocia said. "We want to have a pressure-packed defence that plays with a lot of emotion. It wasn't always that way on both offence and defence last year."

The Eskies expect to sell almost 25,000 season tickets this season.


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