EDMONTON - With Ricky Ray a thing of the past, the Edmonton Eskimos have been gifted with the way Kerry Joseph is playing at present.
But the future of the club’s quarterback position has been kept under wraps.
General managers don’t typically agree to requests to untie the bow and tear open the paper hiding the names on their negotiation list, but Eric Tillman isn’t your typical GM.
“Actually, the league rule is often misunderstood. We are precluded from speaking about the other seven club’s neg list, not our own,” Tillman said. “How each club handles their own is discretionary.
“But after you asked this specific question about quarterbacks the other day, I spoke with the league office, received confirmation and approval to discuss our neg list quaterbacks openly with you.”
The atypical GM pulled the trigger on the high-profile and risky deal that sent his franchise QB packing back in December, after reaching the conclusion that there was no longer enough bang for the buck.
But Tillman wasn’t just firing blindly — as has been suggested in the media ever since, including following last week’s 37-20 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders — with no long-term succession plan for an heir apparent to the aerial attack.
“Twenty-five months ago when I was hired, our second- and third-string quarterbacks were Jason Maas and Jared Zabransky,” Tillman said. “Right now, we have Kerry, Steven (Jyles), Matt (Nichols) and Jeremiah (Masoli) — the latter two are 25 and 24.
“And, we’ve added nine future prospects to our exclusive-rights negotiation list since Kavis (Reed) and I came aboard. Combined with Matt and Jeremiah, that’s 11 young prospects. If that’s not planning for the future at quarterback, frankly, I don’t know what is.”
While there has no doubt been a period or two of adjustment — and readjustments — at quarterback this season, a recently revamped offensive mindset has led to a pair of inspired perfromances by the 39-year-old Joseph.
Under his veteran gridiron guidance, the Eskimos have turned around a five-game losing streak and head into Friday’s game against the league-leading B.C. Lions riding a pair of home victories.
In his five starts this season, Joseph has completed 105 of 163 pass attempts (64.4%) for an average of 303 yards per game and threw nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
“If those collective numbers don’t validate Kavis’s decision, I don’t know what does. We don’t care if Kerry is 39 or 29, Kerry deserves to be our starter right now,” Tillman said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it’s hard to understand someone arguing that we should let age be the determing factor when we’re in the midst of competing for playoff position in both divisions, East and West.”
With three games left on the schedule, the 7-8 Eskimos still have a chance to finish the season with a winning record — a feat only accomplished twice in the past six seasons with Ray at the helm.
But right now, the Eskimos are more interested in looking at their quarterback-to-be, rather than the one who was.
“Every starting quarterback in this league was on someone’s neg list in the past. It’s the lifeblood of our American talent,” Tillman said. “It’s not an exact science, that’s for sure. In fact, in Saskatchewan, I put Russell Wilson on the neg list as a freshman, thinking he was too small for the NFL. Now, four years later, he’s starting for the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie. So, I’ve been wrong many times. All GMs have.
“But, if you identify enough talented young quarterbacks with CFL skill sets, you can build a strong young foundation for the future.”
THE NEXT NINE
Edmonton Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman gives a rundown on the nine quarterbacks currently on the team’s exclusive rights negotiation list, providing fans with an unprecedented look at the different directions the club could potentially go in developing at the position in the future. While there has been an unending stream of negative feedback in public message boards and in the media following the off-season trade of Ricky Ray — some going as far as to accuse the Eskimos of having no succession plan whatsoever — Tillman has agreed to not only list for the first time publicly, but give the lowdown on each of his nine notable prospects. While there is no guarantee we will see any or all of them in the Green and Gold, this overview wrangles them all up at once. And manages not to break a single CFL rule in the process (We hope!). Here they are, in no particular order:
Trevone Boykin 6-0 215 Texas Christian
Tillman’s Take: “As a freshman, Trevone has recently become TCU’s starting quarterback. Last week, he passed for more than 250 yards, four touchdown passes and ran for another 60 yards or so. Very athletic young quarterback with a pro arm who was recommended by Paul Jones.”
Austyn Carta Samuels 6-0 220 Vanderbilt
Tillman’s Take: “Austyn transferred to Vanderbilt from Wyoming, where he previously was Mountain West Conference freshman of the year. As a two-year starter at Wyoming, he passed for 4,000 yards or so, and had a completion percentage of better than 60%. Smart young man who’s a very good student. He’s expected to be the Commodores starter as a senior next year and he has the physical gifts to have an impact in the SEC. Strong runner who reminds me of a young Darian Durant in terms of his ability to make big plays after things break down.”
Dennis Dixon 6-4 200 Oregon
Tillman’s Take: “Dennis was a fifth-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2008, and spent three years with the Steelers before being released. He’s 27 right now, and currently on the Ravens practice roster, so his NFL clock in ticking. At Oregon, he had a terrific collegiate career. He finished fifth in the 2007 Heisman Trophy balloting (given to the top collegiate player in the U.S.) and he was voted Pac-10 player of the year. Dennis can extend plays and drives with his mobility, and he has the arm strength to make all of the throws on the bigger CFL field. At Oregon, one of things that impressed me most was they way he did a nice job of going to his second and third options. He appears to read defences very well and put a lot of pressure on them with excellent run fakes when he was running that spread system at Oregon.”
Everett Golson 5-11 185 Notre Dame
Tillman’s Take: “This is a total projection, because Everett is a 19-year-old freshman. One of the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the country coming out of Myrtle Beach, S.C. But he’s under six feet and his athletic skill set is perfect for our league. Notre Dame is undefeated this year and he’s started five of their first six games and has completed 60% of his passes. Really quick feet, live arm and very accurate on the move.”
G.J. Kinne 6-1 218 Tulsa
Tillman’s Take: “G.J. was recently cut by the New York Jets, and he just signed with Omaha of the United Football League. Marcel Bellefeuille, the Ticats former head coach, is his offensive co-ordinator. At Tulsa, G.J. passed for almost 9,500 yards and 80-something touchdowns. Terrific production. Like Kerry Joseph, G.J. throws very well on the move. With the Jets and in Omaha, he’s been playing in systems that are more pocket-oriented. At Tulsa, their offence was very much like a wide-open CFL system. If fact, in time, I think G.J. might flourish with what we’re doing here offensively, moving our quarterback around, taking advantage of Kerry’s athleticism. Being only 22 or 23, G.J.’s still a puppy in terms of his pro development.”
Jordan Lynch 5-11 220 Northern Illinois
Tillman’s Take: “Love this young man. He has exploded out of nowhere to become one of the more exciting players in U.S. college football. Was a backup last year behind Chandler Harnish, who was drafted by the Colts this past spring. Jordan can run as well or better than any quarterback in college football. As a first-year starter, he’s averaging almost 140 yards per game, which is a ridiculous number for a quarterback. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is something like 4:1, and his team has only lost one game. Jordan is a junior, but with his lack of height, is probably not an NFL quarterbacking prospect. I slapped him on our neg list a couple of weeks back and we’ll gladly be patient and watch his development. That said, the biggest fear is that the NFL will convert him to running back.”
Connor Shaw 6-0 205 South Carolina
Tillman’s Take: “Gutsy kid who loves football. His father is a high-school coach. As a two year starter at South Carolina, he has won 13 of 15 starts. Right now, the Gamecocks are rated ninth overall in the NCAA. With a 70% completion percentage and a touchdown-to-interception ratio at better than 2:1, he’s having a great junior season. Physical runner who makes good decisions in the passing game. He may not look pretty doing it, but he’s a winner.”
Isaiah Stanback 6-3 220 Washington
Tillman’s Take: “This young man could be another Kerry Joseph type story. Kerry, of course, played quarterback in college and safety in the NFL before we brought him to Ottawa and gave him a chance to play quarterback again. Isaiah has been with three NFL clubs — the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants — playing wide receiver. (Eskimos head scout) Ed Hervery recommended Isaiah and believes the athletic skill set he showed playing quarterback at Washington can translate to our Canadian game.”
Blaine Gautier 5-11 210 Louisiana Lafayette
Tillman’s Take: “Very athletic left-hander recommended by (director of player personnel) Paul Jones. As a junior, Blaine broke ULL single-season records in completion percentage, touchdown passes and yards passing in 2011. Unfortunately, Blaine broke his hand in September and he’s expected to miss most of the balance of his senior season. But his talent and mobility are well documented and ideal for our league.”