Esks in serious rebuild mode

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

EDMONTON - Eric Tillman, at various stages of his career, has been a member of the media and required to make pre-season predictions.

“The last time I made an Edmonton prediction on air it was with Sportsnet back in 2006. The week before the season kicked off, I predicted the Eskimos would break their 34-year tradition and not make the playoffs,” the new general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos said of the end of North American pro sports record run.

“With the club coming off a Grey Cup win, that one got me more hate mail than you can possibly imagine. I got called ugly and stupid among other things. Well, five years later, I’m still ugly, but thank goodness, not stupid enough to answer your question,” he said laughing.

The question, of course, was if Tillman was a member of the media today, how would he pick the Eskimos to finish.

They’ve missed the playoffs four of the last five years. They lost their first four games last season, fired the general manager not long after, fired the coach at the end of the year and then got rid of all the players.

OK. Not all the players. The majority of the players.

Tillman said he does understand if most of the predictions being made today project the Eskimos to finish fourth in the West again.

“Honestly, who can blame them? We haven’t had a home playoff game since 2004 and we just finished an 0-2 pre-season. Justifiably there are many questions about this team.

“The only burr under my saddle comes with the assumption that questions are strictly evidence of liabilities. In truth, many are answered in the affirmative fashion. But, hey, it’s on us to earn respect again. So we’re eager to kick it off and see how much we can accomplish in Year One.”

Changes, in football, do not usually result in immediate success.

“Dave Ritchie used to say for every new starter on defence, there will be two losses. So, if his theory holds true this year, our calculators might blow up trying to count the losses,” said Tillman.

“But all kidding aside, Kavis Reed and I like this group of young men. Sure, we will get punched in the nose a few times, but by the time the frost is on the pumpkin, I believe this group might surprise many of our skeptics.

“Instead of making bold statements about what percentage this club has improved, let’s just wait until November and let the only percentage that matters speak for itself — our winning percentage,” said Tillman of the team which ended up with a 7-11 record last year.

If you’re scoring, the Eskimos will have eight new starters on defence.

Only three, DL Greg Peach, LB Rod Davis, and DB Chris Thompson will be starting in the same positions they were last year. T.J. Hill is moving from starting linebacker to starting safety.

On offence, QB Ricky Ray, SB Fred Stamps, RB Daniel Porter, RB Mathieu Bertrand and offensive linemen Aaron Fiacconi, Patrick Kabongo, Kyle Koch and Greg Wojt are back in starting positions.

Add it all up and that’s 13 of 24 new starters from the last game last year to the first game this year.

Throw in the names of Calvin McCarty, Etienne Legare, Andrew Nowacki, Weldon Brown and Derek Schiavone and, while there are others on the injured list, those are the only other players who were on the 46-man roster for the final regular season game who are back this year.

That’s 18 of 46.

“We’ve had five rookie Canadians — Scott Mitchell, Nate Coehoorn, Hugo Lopez, Mike Miller and Ted Laurent — make our club. Rookies comprise almost 25% of our Canadian nucleus. Additionally we had two more rookies, Youssy Pierre and Dale Stevenson, make our practice roster.

“We’re doing the things necessary to improve our club. Critics will always criticize. Like scorpions stinging, I suppose that’s just their nature. But doers have to have the courage to be criticized and to do what we believe is right, even when it isn’t popular.

“We feel good about the nucleus we’re building. We’re excited about the challenge of building a winner in Edmonton as quickly as possible.”

As for this scorpion, put me down for an Eskimos last-place finish in the West again, but with a spot in the Eastern Conference crossover game in Hamilton.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos