Esks stoked about Stokes

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

Keith Stokes is the first major entry in the battle to become the new punt and kick returner for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Signed yesterday to a two-year deal - for an estimated $60,000-$80,000 - the CFL's former outstanding special teams player of the year has the pedigree to re-ignite the Green and Gold's not-so special teams.

However, he's soon going to have company in the battle to replace Tony Tompkins.

"I can't give you some names because we are in the process of negotiating with a few others (to compete against Stokes at training camp)," Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia said.

But it's fair to say that Stokes will have three players to beat for the job.

The 29-year-old import has have some competitive edges, though, because he has previously played for new Edmonton special teams co-ordinator Noel Thorpe.

"I know the schemes he runs returning kicks," Stokes said from Montreal, where he previously worked with Thorpe.

"That's a plus for me."

Stokes brings a 10.2-yard average per punt return to camp, which is better than the 7.8-yard average put up by Tompkins last year. On kickoffs, Stokes's career average is hovering around 20.2 yards.

But more importantly, he has the ability to find the end zone.

In his short stint with the Bombers last year, he scored a major on an 80-yard punt return in the East final.

In comparison, the Eskimos haven't had a punt or kick return for a touchdown since 2005.

Stokes was released by the Bombers last week, in a move that left him "very upset."

To no surprise, he wishes Winnipeg had released him before the free-agent frenzy in February.

Labelled for being overweight earlier in his career - Stokes says it was because of an injury - the former all-star is apparently completely healthy heading into training camp.

If he can return to his 2004 form - when he had four punt returns for touchdowns for a Winnipeg record - the Eskimos will be nothing short of thrilled.

Stokes also brings more versatility to the table than Tompkins ever did.

"I started at running back in this league, and I have started at receiver before," he said.

Maciocia hasn't ruled out using the import in certain offensive packages in those roles.

JONATHAN.HUNTINGTON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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