Road to repeat?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

The long and treacherous road to the 2006 Grey Cup in Winnipeg starts bright and early today for the Edmonton Eskimos.

The first practice of a gruelling three-week training camp starts at 7:50 a.m.

If there are a few sleepy heads staggering onto the field, head coach Danny Maciocia might want to hit them with this fact: only once in the last 24 years has a team repeated as Grey Cup champions.

After capturing the 2005 championship in dramatic fashion last fall, the ultimate goal for this year's Green and Gold crew is to beat the jinx that seems to follow defending Cup champions.

The 2004 Eskimo crew - with Maciocia acting as offensive co-ordinator - had a chance to repeat but failed the assignment.

"We got out of the blocks at 0-3," recalled the head coach.

"I thought we lacked hunger and drive. It made for a tough and miserable season."

The club finished a disappointing 9-9 in the regular season and then laid a rotten egg in the West semifinal - losing 14-6 to Saskatchewan.

Needless to say, Maciocia wants to keep complacency from settling in this spring and doesn't want a repeat of the 2004 nightmare.

For those reasons, Maciocia and general manager Paul Jones scoured the North American football landscape this winter looking for quality talent to challenge key veterans.

The hope is a fiery and competitive training camp produces a rock-solid team with plenty of fire in its belly to start the regular season in a hostile McMahon Stadium in Calgary on June 17.

4 KEY TRAINING CAMP QUESTIONS

1. What will the starting five look like on the offensive line when the pre-season is over?

No less than 10 players - including three imports - are vying for a starting job. With three starters (Chris Morris, Kevin Lefsrud and Bruce Beaton) gone from last year, there are spots to fill. The early betting line suggests the starting five at the end of camp will be: Joe McGrath (left tackle), Dan Comiskey (left guard), Tim Bakker (centre), Raleigh Roundtree (right guard), Patrick Kabongo (right tackle).

2. Who will emerge as the backup QB?

With Jason Maas in Hamilton, there are three suitors for the No. 2 position: unproven Jason Johnson, raw rookie Steven Jyles and aging veteran Khari Jones.

3. Will Ed Hervey's trademark speed be on display?

After ripping the MCL in his right knee last summer, Hervey didn't show his blazing speed when he returned last fall.

If he's still a step slower this spring, Hervey could be in a dogfight with Chris Cole, a speedster from the NFL who has already bragged he has "all the talent in the world."

4. Will the Eskimos find room for Rodney Williams?

Carrying an American punter on the roster is a rare luxury. With small rosters and demands at other positions, it's tough to justify two kicking positions.

But Williams can pound the pigskin. On the first day of rookie camp, the former New York Giant was booting 60-yard punts and making Maciocia smile from ear-to-ear.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

With construction at Concordia College, training camp has moved to Clarke Park and the adjacent grass practice field. It means the veterans will be able to use the Commonwealth Stadium Eskimo locker room, while the rookies will use the visiting team locker.

EARLY WAKE-UP CALLS

The motto for training camp could be: Early to bed, early to rise.

During 10 of the 15 practice days, the team will hit the field at 7:50 a.m. After nearly 90 minutes, the players will get a short break before returning for another practice at 9:50 a.m.

"It's hard to get the players to perform at a particular level in an afternoon session after they have had lunch and been re-taped," said Maciocia, explaining the reason behind the morning sessions.

"There's a tendency for players to be sluggish (in the afternoon)."

Today's Schedule @ Clarke Park: Practice No. 1: 7:50-9:30 a.m.; Practice No. 2: 9:50-11:35 a.m.

KEY DATES

June 3: Pre-season game @ Saskatchewan

June 9: Pre-season game vs. Saskatchewan

June 10: Rosters must be cut to 46 players. (Unlike past years, this is the only cutdown day.)

VETERANS ON THE BUBBLE

Shannon Garrett - DB

The six-year Eskimo will likely be auditioned in Steven Marsh's linebacker position because he can cover receivers in open field. But four-year NFL veteran Reggie Myles - among others - will also get a shot at filling Marsh's shoes while he's injured.

If Garrett doesn't win the battle for Marsh's job, he might not be able to return to his old halfback position.

The acquisition of Reggie Durden and emergence of Keyuo Craver last year could change the landscape in the secondary.

Although he didn't get beat for a TD last year until November, Garrett could be the odd man out. And his 32-year-old birth certificate won't help him.

Edmonton could start the season with Malcolm Frank and Craver at the corners, with Durden and Donny Brady at halfback.

Singor Mobley - LB

Eight years in Edmonton and more than 130 games doesn't bring job security. The coaching staff is high on newcomer Andre Sommersell and returnee Marcus Winn.

Could this be the end of the line or will the challenge reinvigorate Mobley?

Jabari Issa/Robert Brown - DT

Non-imports Steve Charbonneau and Randy Spencer are practically guaranteed a spot on the club, with one starting and the other backing up.

That leaves three Americans - including the above mentioned duo - fighting for the other tackle spot.

The coaching staff is very keen to see Dorsett Davis at camp. If the former Denver Bronco impresses, the ax will likely fall on one members of the veteran duo.

Taylor Inglis - Long snapper

After earning the job as a rookie last year, he tore an ACL in the playoffs.

By sitting out the first preseason game to avoid further injury on the artificial turf in Regina, the door is open to versatile veterans Deitan Dubuc and Mike Maurer.

If the Esks get into a roster crunch, Inglis could get caught in a numbers game.

INTRIGUING NEW FACES

Reggie Durden - CB/HB: trade from Montreal

The Esks avoided throwing in Durden's direction when he was in Montreal. Now the coaches hope he can shutdown the opposition.

Anthony Collier - DE: Ottawa dispersal draft

With 12 sacks in just three-quarters of last season, he could lead the league with a full season in Edmonton.

Pat Woodcock - WR: Ottawa dispersal draft

Once a legitimate threat in Montreal (838 receiving yards in 2002), the non-import has struggled the last three seasons.

Maciocia hopes he rekindles his career in Edmonton.

If he does, he could take Andrew Nowacki's spot as the fifth receiver, which could cause a domino effect that leads to Rob Leblanc being without a job.

Reggie Myles - LB: free-agent signing

After scrapping with a teammate in Cincinnati and being kicked off the Bengals, can Myles keep his nose clean and earn a job?

LONG GONE

Departed players:

Rashad Jeanty (NFL)

Joe Montford (released)

Jason Maas (traded)

Davis Sanchez (traded)

Danny McManus (traded)

Jason Lamar (released)

Sandy Annunziata (Ottawa castoff)

Mike Jenkins (released)

Glen Young (retired)

Bruce Beaton (retired)

Chris Morris (retired)

Kevin Lefsrud (retired)

Roger Reinson (retired)

- - -

MONEY MATTERS

The Edmonton Eskimos have suddenly played a significant role in stalling a major part of the CFL's salary management system.

The monetary issues - i.e. the $3.8-million salary cap - within the SMS are now on hold because three teams - including the Eskimos - refused to vote in favour of language changes within the document this week.

Six teams needed to support the change in wording. The Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions also voted against the changes.

The Eskimos refused to comment on the developments, but other league executives are talking.

"In order to convert what we call the Phoenix document (the SMS that was approved in Phoenix in January) into an operational document, there were two things to happen: We needed discussion with the players' association and there has to be a conversion of what is unwritten constitutional language in Phoenix to written language we can implement," said Ted Hellard, a Calgary Stampeder owner.

"We got through the players' association.

"Then we had to verbalize it into a constitutional form. A team that voted for it in (Phoenix) now had some issues as how this was an acting constitution.

"It just has to be put into a language all the teams can be comfortable with.

"Now we're rewriting the constitutional issues. There's no timetable as to when it will be brought forward."

It's believed the "team" Hellard is referring to is the Eskimos.

But as major supporter of the SMS, Hellard doesn't believe this is the end of the salary-cap idea, which is supposed to be enforced next year.

"This is really just part of the process," he said.

- - -

SO LONG, CEDRIC

The hero of last summer's Labour Day classic in Calgary is on his way out. Cedric Scott failed his team medical yesterday, which led head coach Danny Maciocia to the decision to cut the import defensive tackle.

"Basically, it was wear and tear on his body," said the coach. "It was a non-money issue."

Scott hauled down Henry Burris in the final seconds on Labour Day to preserve an Eskimo win, but was yanked in and out of the lineup in the second half of the year because of shoulder problems and roster restrictions.

Late hit: Two unnamed players are in limbo and were scheduled to receive more medical tests late last night. At the moment, 74 players are fighting for 46 roster spots.


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