Esks retooled and ready

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

This Edmonton Eskimos season is on Danny Maciocia.

There is no easier way to say it in the Alberta capital. If the Green and Gold qualify for the post-season for the first time in three years, Maciocia can stand up to his vocal group of critics and shoot back.

But if this club misses the playoffs in an eight-team league this fall, it will surely be three strikes against Maciocia and he will be gone.

And while the head coach/director of football operations found plenty of new players this off-season -- Fred Perry, Jordan Younger, Noel Prefontaine, etc. -- his most important moves likely involved the coaching staff.

Maciocia and the Eskimos' upper management have too much class to come out and say it publicly, but the coaching staff appears to be much better than last year.

Unlike in hockey and basketball where freelancing by players is critical, football is a sport where coaches have far greater influence.

On the O-line, Ronnie Vinklarek replaces Carl Brennan. The Eskimos allowed 52 sacks last year, second most in the CFL.

"We have seen a significant improvement (on the O-line)," said Maciocia near the end of training camp this spring.

With NFL coaching experience in Buffalo and Tennessee, Vinklarek garnered interest from the San Francisco 49ers after the Esks signed him this off-season.

Don Wnek (formerly at Baylor University) replaces Malvin Hunter as the defensive line boss.

Knowing the $4.2-million salary cap doesn't include coaching salaries, the Esks brought in a full-time receivers' coach this year -- something the club didn't have last year.

Mike Kelly -- formerly an offensive co-ordinator in Winnipeg -- is trying to improve a cast that hasn't had enough playmakers.

"As soon as we signed (Kelly), Milt Stegall calls me up and says: Listen to whatever he says," relayed Eskimos receiver Kamau Peterson.

"I definitely think we'll benefit."

But the two most important changes involve Rick Worman and Noel Thorpe.

Worman is the new offensive co-ordinator, replacing Jacques Chapdelaine -- who is stuck with a reputation in this city as a coach who rubbed some players and personnel in the locker room the wrong way. And Thorpe takes over from Scott Squires, who failed miserably as a rookie special teams coach last year.

Edmonton gave up a stunning six touchdowns against on special teams in a 5-12-1 regular season. Needless to say, Edmonton has changed its schemes.

"We returned two touchdowns (in the pre-season). We haven't done that since 2005," said J.R. LaRose on Thorpe's special teams schemes.

If you read between the lines when Maciocia speaks, the play on the field and life in the locker room should improve this year.

"This staff looks united," said Maciocia, who led the Esks to a Grey Cup in 2005 during his rookie year as head coach.

"There's mutual respect for one and other. It extends itself beyond the playing field.

"Whether we are having a meal together or we are at some coach's house, there seems to be a good atmosphere."

That wasn't the case last year.

"I have no one to blame but myself for that. But it was a valuable experience," Maciocia said.

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ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

Last season: 5-12-1

Key departures: RB Tyler Ebell, DB Stanford Samuels, DB Omarr Morgan, K Sean Fleming, LB A.J. Gass.

Key additions: DB Jordan Younger, DE Fred Perry, DT Dario Romero, K Noel Prefontaine, QB Jason Maas.


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