Eskimos Report Card

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

While the Edmonton Eskimos doubled their regular-season win total from last year and were one victory shy of earning a spot in the Grey Cup game this season, only six players earned an 'A' in the final 2008 Sun Media report card.

Following tradition, grades are given out for several starters while the offensive line, special teams and coaching staff get overall grades.

In a new twist this year, though, there are new categories: biggest bust, most pleasant surprise and 10 things Danny Maciocia should do this off-season.

QB Ricky Ray: B

Key stats: Top completion percentage in the CFL in the regular-season (69.8%), but had a team-high 13 fumbles. Ray actually led the CFL in fumbles this year by a wide margin. Calgary's Henry Burris finished the regular season second in that category at nine. While not all those fumbles can be pinned on Ray, he has to get rid of the ball quicker or throw it away.

RB AJ Harris: F

Key stats: Averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the regular season. Six other teams had a starting RB with a higher average. Yes, he doesn't get a lot of carries. But when he did touch the rock in the post-season he was ineffective: 16 carries for 36 yards for a 2.3 yard average.

RB Calvin McCarty: A

Key stat: Second on the team with 70 receptions.

While McCarty had the same rushing average as Harris in the regular season, there are three key reasons why he gets an A: a special teams demon, best set of hands on the team and received Kamau Peterson's vote for the team's top Canadian. Every team in the CFL would love to have McCarty.

WR Brock Ralph: F

Key stat: Made 13 catches in 10 games for just 164 yards. A disastrous season on every level. Missed the final eight games while stuck on the nine-game injured list.

SB Kamau Peterson: A

Key stat: Led the team with 101 catches for 1,317 yards in the regular season. Leadership skills are through the roof, making him one of three most valuable players on the club. But here's an interesting note: he only scored a touchdown in three games this year and failed to find the end zone in the final 11 games.

SB Fred Stamps: A

Key stat: On pace for 966 receiving yards before being injured in Game 14. For being a third receiver in the Esks' offence, Stamps put up very good numbers. Assistant coach Mike Kelly quietly referred to him as being possibly the club's most complete receiver.

SB Kelly Campbell: A

Key stat: Led the league with a stellar 22.6-yard average per catch.

WR Maurice Mann: B

Key stat: Produced 420 yards in just seven games. Impossible to give him a higher grade based on one third of a season.

WR Andrew Nowacki: B

Key stat: Rarely used (28 catches in 18 regular-season games) but had a 13.2-yard average. Can only recall two mistakes all year: fumble on Labour Day in Calgary and a drop in the post-season. Work away from the ball - blocking, route running - earned him a 100% grade in one game this year.

Offensive line: C

Key stats: Edmonton had league-worst 4.9 yards per carry and a CFL-low 85.2 yards rushing per game. The O-line was much improved in pass protection this year, giving up 15 fewer sacks compared to 2007. However, the line has to take some responsibility for the lack of a running game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K/P Noel Prefontaine: B-

Key stats: Ranked seventh in field-goal percentage in the CFL (76.1%) but second in punting average (46.9 yards). More than just stats going into this grade. There are six double-duty kickers/punters in this league and Prefontaine is the second-best non- import behind Paul McCallum.

LS Taylor Inglis: C

Slipped a bit in his long snapping this year, but is still regarded as one of the best in the game. But his downfield tackling on special teams needs to improve. That became evident in the playoffs.

KR Tristan Jackson: A

Key stat: Four return touchdowns in the regular-season and playoffs combined. An outstanding rookie season for an unknown player at the start of the year. But this grade is also shared by the entire punt/kick return unit. Best news of all for Eskimo fans: he's under contract for two more years.

Punt/kick coverage unit: C

Key stat: Edmonton had five special teams touchdowns against this year. In the regular-season, this unit deserved a B, but in the playoffs, it sunk to an F. Three return touchdowns against in two playoff games is terrible.

Defence:

DE Montez Murphy: F

Key stat: Benched for the final seven games of the year.

In 11 games this year he had just three sacks.

DE Fred Perry: B

Key stats: In the final three games of the year he had: one interception, one touchdown, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Didn't get a sack in his first six games this year, but gets full marks for being the best lineman when it mattered most.

DT Dario Romero: B

Key stat: Tied for team lead with six sacks.

A West Division all star, Romero was the unquestioned leader of the D-line.

Extra marks for playing with two torn ligaments in one ankle during the middle of the year.

DT Eric Taylor: C

Key stat: Zero sacks and four tackles in post-season games.

The Esks need more from an inside lineman.

DE Brandon Guillory: C

Key stat: Tied for team lead with six sacks.

An overall average defensive end with flashy sack numbers.

He had nine sacks in 13 games (playoffs included). However, he was benched three different times during the year, with coaches being critical of his run defence.

DT Jim Davis: C-

Key stat: Six sacks in 14 games.

Benched twice this year, Davis had an up-and-down rookie year.

If he returns to training camp next year, he'll be on the bubble. His character in the locker-room, though, can't be questioned.

LB Agustin Barrenechea: C

Key stat: Led the Esks with 68 defensive tackles.

In his first year as the starting MLB, he was not a dominant force.

The quarterback of the defence, he gets the same grade as the overall unit deserves.

LB Kenny Onatolu: C

Key stat: Benched for four of the first five games.

Started the final 11 games of the year at outside linebacker and should show improvement next year.

LB Shannon Garrett: C+

Great knowledge of the defence in his 14th CFL season, but rarely makes a noticeable impact play.

DB Jordan Younger: D

Key stat: Just one interception in 18 games.

The three-time divisional all-star didn't produce the expected results after coming from Toronto in a trade.

DB Lenny Williams: C

Key stat: A 24.8-yard average on kickoff returns.

Picked on in the East Division final loss - two missed tackles and lost Jamel Richardson for a touchdown - Williams is a prime candidate to move to SAM-linebacker if Garrett retires.

DB Jason Goss: B

Key stat: Team-high five interceptions with two for touchdowns.

The Esks only CFL all-star.

DB Jonte Buhl: C

Versatility is his strength - being able to play halfback and cornerback.

Added four interceptions, but doesn't seem to be a lock-down defensive back.

S Siddeeq Shabazz: C

Key stat: One interception in 11 starts at safety.

While leaving Olympic Stadium in Montreal last weekend, he remarked this was the most enjoyable year of his career.

If the coaching staff leaves him at safety next year, he should improve.

Coaching Staff: B

A staff with five new assistants took a young team - 13 CFL rookies - and doubled the club's win total.

Granted, the team still finished last in the West Division, but did advance to a divisonal final game.

The offensive coaches need to take responsibility for a non-existent running game at times.

But slamming this coaching staff is the wrong move.

Based on this year's learning curve and improvement, a 12-6 record is the minimum mark for regular-season success next year.

Biggest Bust: RB Damien Anderson

Somehow earned the starting tailback job at training camp but only last two games before being replaced by AJ Harris.

At 29, his career is likely over.

Most pleasant surprise: ST Chris Ciezki

Picked up off the street in May, he led the Esks with 24 special teams tackles.

Matching that impressive number is the fact Edmonton management has him under contract for another three years.

Players to watch:

1. Jamaica Rector, WR

Didn't dress for a single game after arriving in October, but he could hit the ground running in training camp next spring after learning the CFL game this fall.

2. Wale Dada, DB

Only dressed for two games before suffering an apparent injury - never disclosed - to end the season.

There are whispers around the Edmonton compound that he could be a good prospect.

If Danny Maciocia relinquishes his head coach role before Christmas to become the full-time GM, here is Sun Media's suggested short list for a new bench boss:

1. Richie Hall, Saskatchewan defensive co-ordinator

2. Chris Jones, Calgary defensive co-ordinator

3. Doug Berry, former Winnipeg head coach

4. Greg Marshall, Winnipeg defensive co-ordinator

IF I WERE GM THIS OFF-SEASON, I WOULD...

1. Not re-sign DB Jordan Younger: Let him go to free agency - saving the money to put toward other players.

2. Not re-sign soon-to-be free agent OL Joe McGrath: Another cost-saving move.

3. Re-sign C John Comiskey: Take some of McGrath's money and give it to Comiskey.

4. Cut DE Montez Murphy. Younger, better talent is needed.

5. Make a lucrative enough offer to receivers Fred Stamps and Maurice Mann to keep them instead of potentially losing them to an NFL training camp.

The receiving corps could be very dangerous next season with Mann and Stamps in the mix.

6. Re-negotiate with WR Brock Ralph: Coming off a terrible 2008 campaign and given the Eskimos' depth, Ralph can't receive top dollar right now.

7. Cut RB Ron McClendon and DT Clinton Wayne: no explanation needed.

8. Re-sign WR Andrew Nowacki: Don't let him be courted by other teams on the free-agent market.

9. Don't bring back DB J.R. LaRose: It's time this team invested in younger, more promising Canadian talent.

10. Pray 2008 second-round draft pick OL Greg Wojt doesn't land in an NFL training camp next year.

GRADING KEY

A - CFL all-star material

B- Above average

C - Average

D - Major improvement needed

F - Failure


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