Tillman confident in Esks' overhaul

Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray is one of only about eight veterans from the 2010 squad who can be...

Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray is one of only about eight veterans from the 2010 squad who can be written into starting positions — in pen — of the 2011 team. (QMI Agency file photo)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 PM ET

EDMONTON - Ricky Ray. Fred Stamps. Aaron Fiacconi. Patrick Kabongo. Kyle Koch. Greg Peach. T.J. Hill. Chris Thompson.

That’s it!

You don’t realize the extent of the carnage and the makeover of the Edmonton Eskimos roster between last season and this week’s start of training camp until you realize those are the only veteran starters you can write into the same starting spots this season. In pen.

And the highly overpaid Mr. Kabongo better show some signs he’s going to come to camp hungry to have a bounce-back year to include his name.

Of Eric Tillman’s off-season veteran starter acquisitions — receiver Adarius Bowman would also be written in pen on the depth charts of the new head coach. But everybody else is probably in pencil.

There are a few either/or situations, like Arkee Whitlock and Daniel Porter battling for the feature back job. But there are a whole lot of holes to fill with Tillman’s retooled team and a major chemistry experiment to be performed in short order by new head coach Kavis Reed and staff, before the regular-season kickoff July 3 in Saskatchewan.

Other than completing some contracts, Tillman put his last piece of the puzzle in place early Monday morning with the acquisition of 6’1” 303-pound Ole Miss defensive tackle Ted Laurent in the CFL Supplemental Draft.

It’s staggering to look at the Eskimos depth chart headed to training camp.

“It’s huuuge turnover,” admits Tillman.

As the Eskimos open rookie camp Wednesday and the main camp Sunday, the biggest question is if Tillman made waaaaay too many changes.

“Look, I know some critics have predicted we’ll only win four or five games,” said the new Eskimos’ GM.

“I know this is going to be an intriguing season for the fans, the media and all of us. There are going to be tons of critics; tons of questions; tons of motivation. But we can’t wait to kick it off.

“It’s not our intention to convince anybody with words. Talk is cheap.

“Ultimately, our will play speak for itself. Behind everything is the challenge and opportunity to build something special and to re-establish a winning tradition. I believe in this coaching staff, and believe in what we’re building together. We have every resource to be successful here.”

Tillman, you may have noticed by now, doesn’t lack for ego and isn’t shy about promoting his past performance.

“In terms of concern about too many changes, going into that first season when Kent Austin and I were together in Saskatchewan in 2007 we lost, or changed, nine starters. That was about 40% of our starters from that 2006 club.

“Most people said we shouldn’t have changed that team so much, either. Almost everyone picked us last in the 2007 pre-season polls. ‘First time head coach and too many changes,’ they said. Yet, if you remember, we won the Grey Cup in Year One.

“I’m sure we’ll be picked last again.”

Tillman, of course, would love that.

“We have a heck of a challenge at many levels. But, if you’re afraid of challenges, don’t sign up for this rodeo.”

One thing. The Eskimos should be instantly better with change with a new, competent offensive co-ordinator and a head coach with a new aggressive philosophy which goes beyond “Take what they give you.”

The biggest thing is that Ricky Ray is expected to have more protection and more weapons to work with on offense as well.

Defence is where the potential for waaaaay too much change is there to bite Tillman in the butt big time.

“Youthful or not, I love the athletic potential of our young linebackers and secondary. In both areas, we are going to have strong competition. That said, mistakes in the secondary can kill you; but, hey, we’re going to pick the best talent and challenge them to learn and develop fast.

“Rich Stubler can flat-out coach; he’s a great addition as defensive co-ordinator. And I’m thrilled with the rest of our staff, too. I believe we’ve dramatically upgraded our speed on defense, and, as they gel together week after week, we’ll get better and better.

“If they call you a bozo in May, how much does that matter if you’re playing well in November?”

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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