Jason Maas and the Eskimos staff did a tremendous job getting the team ready to play in just one training camp week.
If you consider that Saturday was a walkthrough, Edmonton and Saskatchewan had just five days to prepare for a pre-season tilt. But the men in green and gold were clearly superior in a 35-12 victory.
There were some major takeaways from the Eskimos performance.
Shaqtin’ a fool
Maybe, just maybe, when football teams make moves there is a plan behind it.
When the Edmonton Eskimos released running back John White after he passed his physical the day before training camp, the Esks had an idea what Shaquille Cooper could do as the No. 2 runner behind entrenched starter C.J. Gable.
The 25-year-old running back was a standout at Edmonton’s mini-camp in Las Vegas and it’s apparent general manager Brock Sunderland and the Eskimos football personnel staff felt Cooper had CFL skills. Cooper had four carries for 36 yards and one touchdown and three catches for 34 yards in Edmonton’s pre-season opener.
Cooper took more time than usual to complete his university career due to some academic issues, but that’s in the past. He originally enrolled at Fort Hays State University in Kansas for the 2011 season as a defensive back. After a redshirt season, Cooper played seven games on defence, but a rash of injuries hit the Tigers running back position and he jumped to that spot and produced immediately rushing for 356 yards and four touchdowns in four games.
Those academic issues kept him out for two seasons, however, Cooper came back and rushed for 1,441 yards (120.1 yards per game) and nine touchdowns plus made 37 grabs for 309 yards and five more touchdowns. Cooper kept the same 5.9 yards-per-carry average as a senior and piled up 1,391 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.
He ran a 4.40-range 40-yard dash at his pro day but went unselected in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cooper was invited to the New Orleans Saints and New York Jets rookie mini-camps, but no contract offer came from either team. The Jets brought him back for a workout in August, although it didn’t yield a contract. That led to Cooper signing with the Eskimos in March.
Cooper has football genes: Frank Gore, who has rushed for more than 14,000 yards and 77 touchdowns in the NFL, is his cousin. The pair of runners keep in constant contact and Cooper calls Gore his role model.
When White was let go there were some who wondered why the talented back had been set free. But Cooper was definitely factored into the equation by the Eskimos.
MOP you know me
Mike Reilly was perfect: two drives resulting in two touchdowns. Reilly completed 5-of-6 throws for 69 yards and one touchdown pass. Edmonton’s starting receiver group led by Derel Walker (one catch for 38 yards), Duke Williams (three catches for 37 and one touchdown), Vidal Hazelton (one catch for 25 yards) and Kenny Stafford (two catches for 20 yards) were in lockstep with Reilly. The reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player made quick decisions, threw the ball accurately and displayed all the traits of the franchise quarterback he is. Based on Reilly’s showing it seems as though the 33-year-old remains at the elite standard he’s set for himself.
Ho-hum for Kevin Glenn. The veteran passer has assimilated to the Eskimo way double-quick. Glenn hit on 10-of-13 passes for 131 yards. Edmonton made signing Glenn a priority after trading then-pending free agent James Franklin to Toronto and it’s proven to be a better move than Winnipeg’s play for Darian Durant.
Pass rush Rivers flows
Gerald Rivers was like water running downhill at the Riders quarterbacks as the 27-year-old made three defensive tackles and registered two sacks. Rivers spent time with six NFL teams – the Rams, Jaguars, Dolphins, Broncos, Giants and Texans – from 2013-2016. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, 4.46 short shuttle, 7.19 three-cone, 39.5-inch vertical and 10-foot, eight-inch broad jump at six-foot-five, 255 pounds. It appears Edmonton has found a freak athlete and very capable pass rusher, which are at a premium these days.