Danny Maciocia is excited about the 2008 season for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is the health of quarterback Ricky Ray.
The Eskimos sixth year pivot has declared himself ready for training camp after missing the final five weeks of last season with a separated shoulder.
"This is a quarterback-driven league and when you lose your leader for as long we did, it posed a lot of challenges," said Maciocia yesterday in the team's state of address teleconference.
"We had a relatively young team, and when you lose your leaders it's going to cost you because those young guys are out there looking for the leadership, and it's not there."
The health of the Eskimos did play a factor last season as key veterans were nagged with injuries all year.
"This off-season was a little different than what I am used to," admitted Ray.
"I feel as close to 100% as I can be going into camp. The shoulder hasn't really bothered me since January."
Having not taken a meaningful snap since Sept. 28, Ray is excited about getting back behind centre.
"I think I'll be a little bit anxious getting that first hit, but when you're out there playing football, you're not thinking about getting hurt," said Ray. "I expect expectations to be the same - the fans want us to do well and guys have to understand that. When you're a losing team, you don't have expectations, you just hope it's your year, but in Edmonton they want a Grey Cup."
Ray will work with Rick Worman as his offensive co-ordinator, his third co-ordinator in as many years. The two have a history together and Ray is excited to work with him and some of the new receivers like Kevin Challenger and Brock Ralph.
"We are going to simplify things, but we'll be able to do more big plays," said Ray.
"We have missed that the last few years. We've made some great additions on the offensive side of the ball and I expect to do some great things offensively."
Another reason Maciocia is excited is because of the revamped roster that will make its way to training camp. Maciocia has retooled the lineup in his fourth season as head coach. He has brought in many new faces, both on the field and on the sidelines in the coaching staff.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
Maciocia wanted to change the culture of the Eskimos and he believes he did that with the number of moves he made.
"We've been pretty active this off-season," added Maciocia. "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.' "
Defensive end Brandon Guillory is also expected to be back in training camp after missing the entire season following a spinal cord contusion against Toronto in the pre-season. Guillory will be entering his third season with the Eskimos, but has only played in three games, as he joined the Eskimos late in 2006.
"Nothing is 100%, but it's as close as you're going to get," said Maciocia in regards to the health of Guillory.
"We are under the understanding he'll be brought in a week prior to camp and all indications are he'll be good to go."
With the acquisition of Fred Perry (Saskatchewan) and Dario Romero (Montreal), the Esks' defensive line should be improved on its fifth-place ranking in the QB sacks department. Adding John Comiskey to the offensive line should also cut down on the number of sacks the Eskimos gave up. Last season, they allowed the third most in the CFL with 52.