Eskimos have big holes to fill

Henry Burris is surrounded by Eskimos defenders Rod Davis (left), Marcus Howard and Greg Peach...

Henry Burris is surrounded by Eskimos defenders Rod Davis (left), Marcus Howard and Greg Peach (right) at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., Sep. 9, 2011. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/Reuters)

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:28 AM ET

EDMONTON - It’s out with the old, in with the new for the Edmonton Eskimos.

Barring any last-minute changes, once the clock strikes 10 a.m. on Wednesday the team will bid farewell to versatile defensive end Greg Peach and interior linebacker Rod Davis, along with linebacker-turned-special-teamer Mark Restelli.

With the emergence of team-leading sacker Marcus Howard and Julius Williams, along with the return of Rashad Jeanty from the 2005 Grey Cup champion squad, the versatile Peach has become expendable as a rush end.

Davis, meanwhile, quarterbacked the defence last season and is one of just three D-starters — along with linebacker T.J. Hill and defensive halfback Chris Thompson — who will be over 30 by the time training camp opens across the CFL in June. But the decision to leave was his own, as the Eskimos were reported to have offered a raise in the range of $30-40,000.

Restelli returned from an NFL preseason with the Miami Dolphins to find his starting spot on defence was filled, while a fourth player up for free agency, fullback Samuel Fournier, sat out the season with a shoulder injury.

And that is just who’s going. Who is already gone is an even deeper cut.

With Jerome Messam signing the paperwork to become a Miami Dolphin on Wednesday, the Eskimos are without a star running back and the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Canadian in the backfield until at least September. And that’s the best-case scenario for the Eskimos.

Couple that with slotback Jason Barnes signing with the Toronto Argonauts on Wednesday — to reunite with Ricky Ray after the future Hall of Fame quarterback was traded by the Eskimos in December — and there are some big holes to fill on offence, as well.

“Free agency is important for us,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed.

But his club got a huge head start on the free-agency wave by making an early splash with the signing of former U of A Golden Bears offensive lineman Simeon Rottier earlier this month, after the Hamilton Tiger-cats released their former first-overall draft pick ahead of the deadline.

“Simeon was a part of that free-agent class and he was a target of ours,” Reed said. “There are a couple of other guys that we have targeted that are very important in what we’re planning to do.

“If we miss out on them, we have to have Plan B. Plan B may not be the best option, but it is an option nonetheless.”

Plan A has the Eskimos — and likely six other teams — targeting all-star Winnipeg Blue Bombers guard Brandon LaBatte, but the six-foot-four, 323-pound Regina product could see the biggest bid come out of his home province.

The next step in the team-building process is the evaluation camp March 2-4, where 50 of the top football prospects in the country will be put through the paces by scouts and coaches from all eight CFL clubs.

One month later, the CFL draft will air its first two rounds on TSN and all six available for viewing online at TSN.com.

Training camp opens across the league on June 3.

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca

@SunModdejonge


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