Reviving Eskimo pride

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

The once-mighty Eskimos were reduced to cellar-dwellers the past two CFL seasons, so the roster has been ravaged in an attempt to recapture their Glory Days as the franchise celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia led the Eskies to victory in the 2005 Grey Cup but fell to 7-11 in 2006 and 5-12-1 last season, finishing last in the West both years.

"We've been pretty active in the off-season," Maciocia understated in yesterday's state-of-the-franchise teleconference. "This is a season that we're clearly excited about with all of our personnel moves.

"Plus, we wanted to change the atmosphere around here to where it used to be when we were winning on a regular basis ... For the most part, we can say, 'Mission Accomplished.' "

Well, not yet. Edmonton's most significant losses were: P/K Sean Fleming (retired), linebacker A.J. Gass (retired to become an assistant Edmonton coach), wide receiver T.J. Acree (traded to Toronto), Trevor Gaylor (released), slotback/kick returner Tony Tompkins (released) running back Tyler Ebell (dealt to Toronto), centre Kevin Lefsrud (retired), cornerback Omarr Morgan (released) and defensive end Tim Cheatwood (released).

Yet, the Eskies have upgraded better than any other CFL team. Then again, they needed more improvement than any other squad in the West. They have added the likes of quarterback Jason Maas, defensive end Fred Perry, wide receiver Brock Ralph, defensive back Jordan Younger, defensive lineman Dario Romero and offensive linemen Garrick Jones and John Comiskey.

"Obviously, it's going to take us a little while to get a feel for one another," Maciocia conceded. "But as long as we can stay away from the injuries we had last year, we should be ready to compete (early in the season)."

Toward that end, starting quarterback Ricky Ray has recovered from a separated shoulder that kept him out of five games last year. And he is ready to take on the challenge of re-discovering Eskimo pride.

"I expect the expectations for us to be high again this year," Ray said. "Fans expect us to win. Here in Edmonton, people expect us to be in the playoffs."

Maciocia feels he has upgraded both his offensive and defensive lines.

"A lot of games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage," he said. "The best improvements are on our line play."

Maciocia also compared returning tailback Damien Anderson to CFL legend Mike Pringle.

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Mike Kelly and Rick Worman are also among a group of new assistants in the Igloo.

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EDMONTON ESKIMOS

KEY NEW GUYS

QB Jason Maas (Montreal), DE Fred Perry (Saskatchewan), WR Brock Ralph (Hamilton), DB Jordan Younger (Toronto), OL Garrick Jones (Calgary), LB Adrian Baird (Winnipeg), P/K Rob Pikula (B.C.), KR Keith Stokes (Winnipeg), OL John Comiskey (Calgary)

KEY RETURNEES

QB Ricky Ray, WR Kamau Peterson, DB Stanford Samuels, CB Jason Goss, DB Siddeeq Shabazz, OL Dan Comiskey, WR Jason Tucker, DE Adam Baidwood, DT Ron Warner

KEY DEPARTURES

P/K Sean Fleming (retired), LB A.J. Gass (retired), DB Omarr Morgan (released, SB/KR Tony Tompkins (released), RB Tyler Ebell (traded to Toronto), WR T.J. Acree (traded to Toronto), C Kevin Lefsrud (retired), DT Robert Brown (released), DE Tim Cheatwood (released), FB Mike Maurer (retired)


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