Esks in outright disbelief

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

The shock spread across the Edmonton Eskimo dressing room like wildfire.

From every corner of the room, players were stunned that veteran non-import defensive end Tim Fleiszer had been released yesterday, less than 72 hours before the start of the regular season.

"He is a veteran that can still play - and he is a Canadian. It's kind of unusual," said defensive back Shannon Garrett.

Indeed, Fleiszer brought talent to the table in more than one area and had a knack for finding his way to the Grey Cup. In nine years in the league, the Harvard product has been in four championship games.

"We are going to miss his leadership on special teams," lamented linebacker Singor Mobley.

SPECULATION ABOUNDS

Fleiszer blocked a punt on Labour Day last year that led to a Mike Bradley touchdown.

And just last week he seemed to be in mid-season form by making a great downfield tackle against Saskatchewan.

"It's a complete shock," added safety Will Loftus.

"I thought he had a great camp. I thought he played really well."

It all means that speculation is already running rampant over why the 30-year-old Quebec native was cut.

There were whispers inside the locker-room yesterday suggesting he must have had a falling-out with the coaching staff.

Others felt maybe he was released because he sat across from CEO Hugh Campbell and president Rick LeLacheur at the bargaining table this winter during CBA negotiations.

Fleiszer is one of two Eskimo player association representatives while Campbell and LeLacheur were point players for the CFL in negotiations.

But Eskimo brass deny those allegations.

"The coaches make the decisions," said LeLacheur.

And this wasn't a rush decision, according to head coach Danny Maciocia.

"Obviously it's not something that happened overnight," said the coach, who didn't seem bothered at all by the timing of the cut.

"We have been keeping a close eye on it over the last week to 10 days.

"We constantly go through evaluations of personnel on a daily basis after every practice."

CAPABLE BACKUPS

Although Fleiszer is capable of starting at defensive end, he wasn't tabbed on the depth chart to be a starter tomorrow night in Calgary. He appeared to be listed in a backup role, like many times last year, seeing the field in spot duty and special teams.

But his departure still leaves Maciocia with the ability to draw from a defensive end talent pool that includes Chuck Alston, Andre Sommersell, Sherrod Coates and Adam Braidwood.

Fleiszer didn't return a call from the Sun yesterday, but being released likely blindsided him.

Just this week Fleiszer spoke at length about taking a bigger leadership role with the club with the departure of several key veterans in the off-season.

"Leadership is incredibly important in this league," he said.

"It's important out the gate and down the stretch run.

"That's a role I am trying to step up and fill."

Instead, the Esks will open the season without Fleiszer.

LATE HITS: It's ironic that Fleiszer's departure could open the door for No. 1 Canadian draft pick Adam Braidwood down the road. While Braidwood is now playing defensive tackle, he could shuffle back to his natural defensive end position, essentially filling Fleiszer's role.

Quietly during camp, Fleiszer had taken Braidwood under his wing.

"He was helping me out a lot. He gave me a lot of advice on the field and off," said Braidwood.

"It will be tough (without him)."

FINISH LINE: Sean Fleming has taken Fleiszer's position as one of the team's player reps. A.J. Gass is the other CFLPA rep.


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