EDMONTON - Calvin McCarty has his work cut out for him.
If the Edmonton Eskimos reigning nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian is to earn the award once again this season, he must continue improving.
That's exactly what the Eskimos set out to do in the off-season after targeting their Canadian content for an overhaul.
Eric Tillman, who was busy in his first off-season as the team's general manager, bidding farewell to 40 players off of last year's final roster.
"You know the saying: that's how you win championships, by having good Canadian content," said McCarty, who is a big part of a core of 18 returning non-imports on a list of 35 currently in camp. "Obviously we've been below what is expected, whether it be through draft or signing guys through free agency or guys just not panning out.
"Whatever the reason, it hasn't been good for us. I definitely wouldn't say it was a false statement. It's true, but we're not that far off of having that Canadian talent either."
Training camp began one day shy of seven months since the Eskimos last played in a 31-23 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders to close out the regular season.
"It's tough sitting back and having the off-season to look at the previous year a little bit, but not dwell on it too much," said McCarty, pointing to the mid-season change in general managers. "How many teams have won a championship or contended when you have a mid-season firing like that? It's tough to go out there and perform knowing that something's not right.
"Keep the coaching staff together, keep some camaraderie here and build and gel. Give guys some time and I think we can do big things this year."
After a 2-7 start to the 2010 season, the Eskimos still made a play at a post-season spot by going 5-4, only to fall one win short.
"Every game, the first is just as important as the last," said the five-foot-10, 215-pounder out of Western Washington. "If we would have won the first one, we probably wouldn't have been worried about the last one.
"There are small plays that add up, a whole bunch of things that you remember."
Good and bad.
But the recognition of the team award certainly helps.
"At the time, we were out of the playoffs, but it felt good personally to come here in my fourth year and have that opportunity," McCarty said. "We've got some good Canadians. For me, it felt good. I would have liked to have had a better season, personally. But that also entails me getting on the field. Standing on the sideline gets kind of tough.
"I know the squeaky wheel gets the grease but I'm not that guy."
Instead, he's been the go-to guy the team has relied on in an array of situations on offence and special teams.
"Whatever they want me to do," McCarty said, joking about getting in on defence too. "I even told (linebackers) coach (Mark) Nelson, if I'm not on the field, let me get on the dark side."