Other than the obvious, there’s a reason the Edmonton Eskimos have bolted out of the gate so quickly this season.
It goes beyond the X’s and O’s, the quick-release passing game, team speed and the turnover ratios.
When the team made wholesale player personnel changes in the off-season, there was one factor general manager Eric Tillman and head coach Kavis Reed were looking for an intangible, something you can’t teach a player.
From outside the locker room, it appeared the Eskimos were taking baby steps, forming a base for the future.
Keep a core group of veterans for leadership and continuity, fill out the roster with youthful enthusiasm and hope for the best.
Nope. One of the main factors the team’s braintrust looked for was maturity.
That’s not to say all or even many of the departed players were a bunch of perpetual children.
“I think people always equate maturity with age,” said Reed, making the distinction. “For us, in filtering out the character we were bringing into the locker room, a lot of our 21-year-old guys are a lot more mature than a lot of the 27-year-olds around the league.”
Older does not necessarily mean wiser. Football smarts, the ability to make a split-second decision, means more.
“That’s vitally important,” said Reed. “We looked at those guys in terms of their football intelligence, their commitment to the team environment and so far, we have good character in the locker room.
“It’s nothing we’ve placed inside them. We set the table as to the boundaries and rules. Those guys, because of their character, have taken it and run with it.”
In a long football season where perfection is always an elusive commodity, the stage has been set for the day this team has to battle through adversity.
“There’s always room for improvement, but I’m very pleased with the way the guys are accountable to each other, the way they’re encouraging each other and the way they’re holding each other accountable for each other’s actions,” said Reed. “That’s the sign of a team that’s mature, very fast and trying to do things the right way. Our leadership, young and old is doing their jobs and the locker room is very stable right now.”
Reed said he’s more surprised at the way this became a 3-0 team than the fact it is a 3-0 team.
“I’m surprised they’ve never trailed in a game, they have always responded to adversity when teams make a push to get back,” said Reed. “We find a way of making big plays.
“We know there is going to be a lot of adversity we’ll face during the season, but I know in my heart, they’re built to withstand adversity.”
Now that they’ve beaten CFL West rivals Saskatchewan and B.C., the Eskimos have a chance to establish an early-season pecking order Saturday in Calgary.
“We are going to face a very, very good football team,” said Reed. “They’ve gone through some adversity and they’ve come out on the plus side of it. We expect if they’re executing at a high level, it’ll be a dog fight.
“If we’re successful, we’ll definitely put ourselves in a very good situation, but we know success will come at a heavy cost.”
This time, the opening skirmish in the Battle of Alberta will mean something.