Eskimos' future is now

Eskimos GM Eric Tillman continues to remake his team (Ian Kucerak, Edmonton Sun).

Eskimos GM Eric Tillman continues to remake his team (Ian Kucerak, Edmonton Sun).

Gerry Moddejonge, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:12 AM ET

EDMONTON - While there is no such thing as a dumb question, Eric Tillman is certainly facing a stupid amount of questioning over how things are going to pan out with the Edmonton Eskimos’ 2012 CFL season.

And their amount continues to grow as rookies and quarterbacks report for training camp Wednesday ahead of next week’s main camp.

“We’re excited. You get to the point where you can taste it,” said the team’s general manager. “Months of work start culminating and we’re ready to take the field.”

But it could be argued much of his efforts have been spent on his own make-work project after pulling the trigger on the biggest deal of the CFL’s off-season that sent franchise quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts in December.

“We realize there are a lot of questions about the team. (Fans) have questions, the media does, people across the league. Questions about our quarterbacking situation. Who’s going to be our running back with Jerome Messam going to the Miami Dolphins? Our defensive co-ordinator’s left. Our special-teams co-ordinator’s left,” Tillman said. “All are valid questions. I have great confidence in this coaching staff and group of players, and I would remind you that by about this time last year a certain member of the TSN panel — we certainly value our partnership with TSN, so I’m saying this in semi-jest — basically chided us the night before our opening game, asking how we can expect to even be competitive with the number of changes that we had made.

“I think if you look back, we certainly hired the right (head coach) and we answered a lot of those questions. We didn’t achieve the ultimate goal, but I can tell you we’re proud of going from last place to tying for first. We’re proud of 11 wins. We’re proud of getting our first home playoff game in seven years. And we’re darn proud of beating the Calgary Stampeders three times.”

The last of which ended up 33-19 in front of 30,183 in Commonwealth Stadium in November to reach the West Division final for the first time since 2005.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Tillman, who is entering just his second full season with the Eskimos since replacing Danny Maciocia midway through 2010. “From an offensive standpoint, I think we appreciably upgraded our offensive line, we’ve added speed to our receiving corps.

“The key is going to be the play at quarterback and how we address the loss of Jerome Messam.”

Then there’s the defence, which found success in the complexity of Rich Stubler’s match defence last season but is returning to a more basic 4-3 system this year.

“Pretty dramatic change. We have a lot of respect for Rich Stubler — outstanding coach, outstanding person,” Tillman said of the now-B.C. Lions defensive co-ordinator. “But we have an equal degree of confidence in Mark Nelson, the son of Roger Nelson, who has paid his dues and is very deserving of this opportunity.”

Last year, the Eskimos surrendered just 401 points — second only to the defending champions from B.C. — and led the division with 24 interceptions as well as the league’s top giveaway-takeaway ratio of plus-16.

“We think by simplifying and going to the 4-3, our guys will play fast. We expect to be good on defence again.”

gerry.moddejonge@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SunModdejonge


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