New faces in igloo

You're going to need a program to get familiar with all the new players expected to crack the...

You're going to need a program to get familiar with all the new players expected to crack the Edmonton Eskimos lineup this year. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

New starting quarterback. Two new receivers. One new running back. Two new offensive linemen. Two new defensive linemen. A new safety. And new cornerback.

That's 10 new players in the starting lineup from last year for the Edmonton Eskimos. And that's assuming no returning starter is going to get beat out by a new recruit.

"I can see it getting up to 12. There is definitely the possibility of it getting up to 12 of the 24 starting positions," said new head coach Danny Maciocia on the eve of coaching his first CFL game tonight against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

When was the last time the study in stability squad that is the Eskimos turned over half the starting lineup from one year to the next, not to mention a head coach to boot?

That's what makes tonight's pre-season game just a little different than your average run-of-the-mill exhibition involving a dozen of new guys in green and gold who you haven't heard of before and most likely won't ever hear of again.

A WHOLE HOST OF GUYS

A whole host of these guys are going to be wearing that uniform all year and maybe well into the future.

It'll be interesting to look at the accompanying photograph in a month, a year and maybe even in 2010 to see how many of those players pictured managed to come from the Class of 2005.

As a rule I'm not a big fan of more than four or five changes a year. Never stand pat. But never turn over the whole ruddy team.

An old coach once told me that for every change in the starting lineup, that's one loss.

"Who was that? Dave Ritchie?" Maciocia asked.

"No, Ray Jauch."

"So I'll probably end up with how many losses?"

"Ten. Maybe 12."

"I'll take my chances."

Macioca will be a study as he leads his horde to the field tonight.

"I know a lot of changes have been made, including the head coaching position. And those questions have not been answered. Finally we've got to a game and there will begin to be some answers.

"Hopefully, as coaches, we'll have some of our questions answered for us."

Obviously, of all those changes, some come with asterisks. Like quarterback Ricky Ray back after a year away. Like offensive lineman Bruce Beaton, back after a year away. And like defensive lineman Joe Montford, a CFL free- agent future Hall of Famer.

But who will fill the rest of those spots?

TRAINING-CAMP SPIES

If you are going to the game tonight, my training camp spies tell me these are the players to watch:

- No. 4. Chris Kelley, WR.

- No. 9. Jason Lamar, LB.

- No. 20. Reggie White, RB.

- No. 24. Ronald McLendon, RB.

- No. 32. Elvis Joseph, RB.

- No. 28. Keyuo Craver, CB.

- No. 40. Marcus Winn. LB.

- No. 29. Gerald Dixon, DB.

- No. 82. Scott Cloman, SB.

- No. 84. Devin Lewis, WR.

- No. 85. Trevor Gaylor, WR.

- No. 91. Cedric Scott, DT.

While only one of those running backs is going to make it, the rest of these guys are odds-on favourites to make this team if they can get it done in the pre-season games.

"There are three areas of our team we are especially focus sed to find answers," says Maciocia. "One is our tailback position. One is our return game. The other is who is going to be the receiver who replaces Terry Vaughn."

You get the idea.

"This team is going to look different in 2005. We're changing the identity of who we are. When you are looking for a different identity, you need different people to fit the identity.

"Two years ago this team won the Grey Cup. After we won the Grey Cup it was almost like the hunger wasn't as evident. We have to create that again," said Maciocia.

"There were players there who were satisfied with what they had done. We weren't as much a team as we were the previous year."

With the new cast to emerge from tonight and the second pre-season game in Winnipeg next week, you can't help but wonder how long it will take the new head coach to turn them into a team again.

Half of them don't even know each other yet. Tonight they're about to get introduced to 30,000 or so others they've never met before.


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