Edmonton Eskimo head coach Chris Jones cut down a budding quarterback controversy Monday, but his starting pivot – Matt Nichols – remains confused over why he was yanked in the first place.
Jones said Nichols, a six-year veteran, will start Friday when the 3-1 Eskimos host the 0-5 Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Matt Nichols has been the guy that’s taken us the last three games, and he’s going to be our starting quarterback,” Jones told reporters after practice.
“We’re not going to change a lot when we’re winning football games.”
He wouldn’t say if Nichols is on a short leash.
“It’ll be game-time situations,” he said.
Nichols was pulled with 20 minutes to go with the Eskimos leading the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 11-3 in the rain last Saturday.
Nichols was 17 for 25 for 196 yards in persistent rain and was the victim of a few dropped balls.
Backup James Franklin came in and fired three touchdown passes to rout the Bombers 32-3, leading to speculation the 24-year-old strong-armed rookie may start Friday.
After Friday’s game, a clearly agitated Nichols bolted from the field as the clock ticked to zero, and had to be brought back to face reporters 50 minutes after the contest ended.
At that point he said he didn’t know he was going to be pulled until it happened, wasn’t told it was for the rest of the game, and wasn’t told why.
After the game, Jones wouldn’t say why he changed to Franklin, but left the door open to a quarterback switch by refusing to confirm Nichols was still No. 1 on the depth chart.
On Monday, Jones declined to answer follow-up questions on how he came to stay with Nichols and why he nixed, or if he ever really considered, a start for Franklin.
At one point Jones stood mute in the media scrum, refusing to speak.
Nichols has won three games since taking over from the injured Mike Reilly. His play has been serviceable, but not outstanding.
He is 48 for 85 for 650 yards and four TDs, but has five interceptions. He’s had some strong passes but has also lobbed his share of overthrows and underthrows.
Nichols told reporters Monday he hasn’t spoken with Jones.
“We were starting to take over the game a little bit, so I was frustrated,” said Nichols.
“I just felt like I was playing a pretty solid game out here in tough conditions. I think my last seven quarters of football have been in a torrential downpour.”
But he emphasized he’s behind all of Jones’ decisions and is moving on to prepare for Saskatchewan.
Is that part of the frustration, Nichols was asked, having things happen to him without explanation?
Nichols declined to answer except to say, “Any time that they tell me I’m in the game, I’m going to go out and play my hardest, play smart football, and try to put points on the board. That’s my job.”
Franklin said he’s good with whatever happens.
“If I have to go back in again, I’m going to try my best to do my best and that way hopefully I’ll have opportunities later on,” he said.
– the Canadian Press