EDMONTON - One player. More than any other.
As the Edmonton Eskimos full-team training camp opens this weekend, there’s one player to watch from Day 1 through until the end of the season. One player who holds the hope for the future.
If trading Ricky Ray is ever going to make some sense, short term or long term, Matt Nichols is going to have to become Travis Lulay or Drew Tate at some stage this season.
Which right now, at this very moment, seems like a sort of silly concept. But it’s my working theory, presented to both coach and general manager.
Trading a Hall of Fame quarterback who could end up owning all the league passing records before he’s done because you think you might have a young future star is one thing. But when that young gun played exactly one quarter of one pre-season game last year completing six of 10 passes for 53 yards and one touchdown, well, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
But it’s clear the Eskimos secretly hid the guy last year with the proverbial kick on the shins and telling him he was injured so he didn’t even carry a clipboard to prevent other teams picking him up.
But unless GM Eric Tillman has gone completely off his rocker, Nichols has to be the future here.
“I would say your theory has a lot of merit,” said head coach Kavis Reed.
And that’s a quote-unquote.
Reed made the statement after the final day of rookie camp Friday where for the second day in a row Nichols was held out without throwing to save him to take veteran reps when camp starts Sunday.
It’s gotta be Nichols.
My expanded theory is that starting Sunday Nichols will be getting lots of reps, lots of pre-season game play and end up projected to play pieces of regular-season games in increasing increments as the season proceeds.
“We have very high expectations this year for Matt Nichols,” Reed said to that.
“His decision-making is very good. He has a great understanding for the game. He throws with velocity. He truly can make all the throws on the field.
“He has a great pocket presence. He’s surprisingly good moving out of the pocket with his eyes down field. He can make the plays on the run with very good accuracy. And he can make plays with his feet,” added Reed.
Ricky Ray is gone. Today is the day to be moving on. And if you’re a fan trying to find hope for the future, keep your eyes glued to No. 16.
“I have zero doubt in the future of Matt Nichols,” said Reed.
That’s strong stuff.
Tillman offered his own words when your correspondent projected the only plausible theory to what will otherwise go down as the biggest brain cramp in his career if Nichols isn’t the future star here, sooner rather than later.
“It’s still early, of course, but Matt was impressive in our mini-camp last month and continued to impress in rookie camp. His talent has never been in question,” said the GM who provided Edmonton with the Eskimos first home playoff game since 2004 with an 11-win season last year.
“We all love Matt’s size, arm strength and his competitive nature,” he said of the six-foot-two, 215-pound Redding, Calif., (home of Ricky Ray) product Tillman brought here for a late season practice roster look when he was signed on Oct. 13, 2010, after spending training camp with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Right now, though — and this is so important — he has that look in his eyes that comes from a guy who isn’t intimidated by the challenge,” said Tillman. “Perhaps better stated, he has the look of a guy who is eager to embrace a special opportunity.
“Other players feed off that confidence, and, in that regard, Matt is a natural leader.”
It’s hardly fair for a guy with one quarter of pre-season experience, but starting Sunday Matt Nichols goes on the clock as having to be the next Ricky Ray.