Eskimos ink two free agents

Cary Koch carries the ball upfield during the 98th Grey Cup held at Commonwealth Stadium in...

Cary Koch carries the ball upfield during the 98th Grey Cup held at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sunday November 28, 2010. (PERRY NELSON/QMI Agency)

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:50 PM ET

EDMONTON - Don’t bother spitting on your snorkel mask.

The free-agency floodgates may have opened earlier than usual on the 2012 CFL season, but the signings barely trickled in across the league as the Edmonton Eskimos inked receiver Cary Koch and defensive tackle Donny Oramasionwu.

“We call him Donny O.,” Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman smiled. “We think he’s one of the better Canadian linemen in the league.”

Identified as a priority early on in the free-agency preamble by head coach Kavis Reed, the six-foot-three, 289-pound Oramasionwu played in Reed’s defensive scheme in Winnipeg in 2010 and amassed 39 defensive tackles, nine sacks and two recovered fumbles over three seasons in his hometown.

The 25-year-old helped the University of Manitoba to the 2007 Vanier Cup and will be playing outside of his home province for the first time in his career.

That makes four signings for the Eskimos, so far, if you include former NFL defensive end Rashad Jeanty and Hamilton Tiger-cats first-overall draft pick from 2008, Simeon Rottier.

“We will sign at least one more player, possibly two,” Tillman said during a scheduled press conference at Commonwealth Stadium Wednesday afternoon. “We have three or four offers out there, including guys who are some of our free agents.”

That includes defensive lineman Greg Peach and middle linebacker Rod Davis, who did not come to terms with the Eskimos when new contracts were drawn up by the club in December.

“I talked to both of their agents briefly (Wednesday),” Tillman said. “My guess is that both will be elsewhere.”

The biggest name on the list this off-season was Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Andy Fantuz, who led the league in receiving yards in 2010 before a failed attempt to catch on with the NFL.

“We have not offered Andy, we are not in those sweepstakes,” Tillman said. “We chose to focus on Brendon LaBatte and we’ve made a significant offer.”

Unfortunately, so have other clubs, including the former Blue Bombers offensive lineman’s home-province Roughriders, who were reported to have offered him upwards of $200,000.

“Kavis is actually in Saskatchewan,” Tillman said. “He had lunch with Brendon (Wednesday).

“He is the best young offensive lineman in our league, he’s a great character guy. He deserves to be in this position. Based on what I’ve been told, he will make a decision by (Thursday).”

Koch, a six-foot, 198-pound import, caught 15 passes for 133 yards in nine games during an injury-plagued season with the Roughriders in 2011.

He fills the gap left with the departure of slotback Jason Barnes, who opted out of his contract in January and ended up following traded quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts on Tuesday.

Easily the biggest loss to the Eskimos was CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian Jerome Messam, who signed with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins hours prior to the kickoff of CFL free agency.

“It’s a game of change,” Tillman said of his former running back. “We’re surprised, given the front-end money or lack thereof. But each kid has the right to follow his own dream and we wish Jerome the best.

“He helped us out last year.”

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca

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