Opportunity knocks for Nichols

Matt Nichols comes into Eskimos training camp as a rookie, and the team's No. 2 quarterback. (AMBER...

Matt Nichols comes into Eskimos training camp as a rookie, and the team's No. 2 quarterback. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:40 AM ET

EDMONTON - A first-year CFL quarterback is supposed to carry a clipboard for a year.

That’s the drill.

You don’t just bring a guy to camp, hand him a football and say, ‘You’re No. 2.’

Matt Nichols knows the opportunity which has been presented to him here.

“I’m very happy with the position I’m in,” said Nichols on a cellphone from somewhere between Spokane and Calgary as he drove to Edmonton with fellow Eastern

Washington alumni, veteran Eskimo defensive lineman Greg Peach and rookie linebacker J.C. Sherritt.

“I kind of did do it a little bit last year,” he said of being a clipboard carrier on the practice roster for three games late in the season, after being a training-camp cut of the Dallas Cowboys.

How big a gamble are the Eskimos taking at quarterback with Nichols essentially No. 2 to starter Ricky Ray, and rookie Cody Kirby basically No. 3, before they even throw a football?

“We believe Matt Nichols has a chance to develop quickly in pre-season,” said GM Eric Tillman.

“If not, we have two or three veterans that we’ve discussed signing. But, in pre-season we’re going to put the bit in Matt’s mouth and see if he spits it out or takes off like a thoroughbred.

“Like Cody, he has a big-time arm. Unlike Cody, he’s had a few weeks on our practice roster late last year and he’s much more prepared for the speed at this level.”

Nichols said he’s coming to camp with a real comfort level.

“That was a great learning experience. It was great to get to know the city, some of the players and especially the CFL. When I went to my first game it was Saskatchewan at Edmonton and I got a real taste of the type of football and the type of atmosphere. I already love the CFL,” said Nichols.

“To come back here for mini camp, it gave me a real jump start with the new coaches, the basics of the offence we’re going to be running and everything. I really look forward to the new offence.”

Tillman, clearly, thinks he has something special in six-foot-three, 225-pound 24-year-old.

A four-year starter, Nichols was 996 for 1,608 (62%) for 12,616 yards with 96 touchdowns against 46 interceptions. His career passing yards are the most in Big Sky

Conference history and rank sixth overall in NCAA history. In both 2007 and 2009 he was Big Sky offensive player of the year.

With numbers like that, it begs the question: why wasn’t he drafted?

“That question is unanswerable,” he said.

Tillman ditched Jared Zabransky to make way for the young pro pivot.

“Ultimately, I had to ask our new staff one simple question: Do you see Jared as our quarterback of the future? If so, great. If not, every rep he takes is simply wasting a chance to prepare for the future,” said Tillman.

“Building and sustaining a winner requires having one eye on the present, and another on the future. And, when the latter requires courage, hey, be tough enough to take the criticism that comes with unpopular decisions and change.”

Anybody who watched Zabransky with an educated eye late last year has no problem with not bringing him back. But to have a back-up quarterback with no CFL experience …

Come to think of it, that’s where Ricky Ray came in.

A late signing just before camp, Ray was No. 3 to Bart Hendricks coming out of camp and No. 2 by the time starter Jason Maas was injured. He took the Eskimos to the 2002 Grey Cup game as a rookie and to his first of two Grey Cup championships the following year.

“If I could have any type of career anything like he’s had, I’d be very happy,” said Nichols.

“Ricky and I are from the same hometown. He’s the most successful guy to come out of the Redding, north state area in California. I heard his name all the time and got to meet him at a golf tournament.

“To now be on the same team is pretty darn cool.”

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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