The off-season is over and done with, and here we are at Week 1.
Saskatchewan and Hamilton kicked off the 2019 CFL season Thursday night while Edmonton and Montreal follow on Friday. Some thoughts on the new Green & Gold squad, whose season opening depth chart is given here:
It's depth chart day!
Here is how we'll line-up tomorrow for the Home Opener against the Montreal Alouettes!
— Edmonton Eskimos (@EdmontonEsks) June 13, 2019
– Alongside the active roster (and the practice roster and the suspended list), the injured list has 12 players on it to start the season. They are: Alex Bazzie, Travis Bond, DaVaris Daniels, Martese Jackson, Jovan Santos-Knox on the one-game, Peter Cender, Shaq Cooper, Andrew Marshall, Christophe Mulumba, Anthony Parker, SirVincent Rogers, Josh Stangby on the six-game.
– Defensive back Nick Taylor was about the only slightly surprising camp cut, but looking around the entire league it seems like very few notable players are looking for new work. Injuries aside, the lone surprise start on the Week 1 team-issued depth chart (as compared to our post-free-agency look at the Esks) is American Money Hunter shifting over to safety, typically a national spot, with Josh Johnson filling Hunter’s predicted halfback spot. That said, sometimes it’s tough to tell if players on the one-game are hurt, or ‘hurt’, for example Jacob Ruby starting at guard over Travis Bond to meet the ratio requirement. Nick Usher and Vontae Diggs, meanwhile, are the first to find a ‘next man up’ opportunity. (Reportedly Arjen Colquhoun may have been fighting through something, hence Godfrey Onyeka getting the nod.)
– The secondary and offensive line have some depth concerns, but everyone who made the team fully earned it. Rookie lineman Kyle Saxelid and defensive backs Josh Johnson and Tyquwan Glass all had strong camps. Regardless, the Esks will eagerly await the debut of perennial all-star calibre SirVincent Rogers, tentatively expected to be sometime this season.
– General manager Brock Sunderland and head coach Jason Maas have both expressed a great deal of excitement about the linebacking group. And who can blame them? Jovan Santos-Knox, Larry Dean and Don Unamba can match any other trio in the league while returnees Mulumba and Korey Jones plus camp standout Diggs are capable next men up. Under new defensive co-ordinator Phillip Lolley’s guidance they’ll do their darnedest to improve the leaky Eskimo run defence of recent years.
– I’m a little disappointed at the lack of young international receiving prospects to groom. All three reliable-but-unspectacular veterans Kevin Elliott, Kenny Stafford, and Josh Stangby avoided cuts, along with the expected starters Greg Ellingson, DaVaris Daniels, and Ricky Collins Jr. At least Bryce Bobo made the practice roster, but Torrance Gibson, Tyler Batson and late add Ron’quavion Tarver got cut, evidently failing to exceed expectations. It’s not a problem in the short term, but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers know better than anyone the potential long term problems. Daniels and Collins are only 26 and 27, however.
– Maybe the biggest differences from last season? Defensive coordinator Phillip Lolley is able and willing to scheme man coverage, something Mike Benevides very rarely did in the role and which can allow for a whole lot more blitzing. Alongside him, Maas won’t be the lonely offensive co-ordinator, with freshly promoted Jordan Maksymic stepping in. I’ve never seen such an underperforming roster as the 2018 Eskimos – the talent was there but the results sure weren’t – so here’s hoping the revamped coaching staff gets the most out of the revamped roster.
– Linebacker Maxime Rouyer of France will be the active roster global while receiver Diego Viamontes and DB Jose Romero of Mexico will start on the practice roster.
– Prediction time:
EDM 12-6 HAM 11-7
WPG 12-6 TOR 8-10
CGY 10-8 MTL 6-12
BC 9-9 OTT 5-13
Keep in mind 8-10 in the West is not the same assessment as 8-10 in the East, simply because of strength of schedule. Hamilton winning the East is the lock of the year, and the West once again looks to be wild. Am I a homer? Well, maybe a little. But I can hardly express how much confidence Phillip Lolley has inspired in these early stages. Also, yes, I admit I’ve been dying to see Calgary *finally* fall back just a little. There’s a good chance the three-game Battle Of Alberta series decides a playoff host. Winnipeg meanwhile assumes the role of consensus West favourite. B.C. is my highest variance team this year, by which I mean I wouldn’t be particularly shocked to see them anywhere from first or second down to fifth (I expect others view Edmonton similarly). Saskatchewan still has a slightly suspicious offence, regardless of what you think of their D.
As mentioned Hamilton has no good reason to lose hold of the East, but in terms of personnel I’m wary of how much they’ve actually improved from last year’s 8-10 team. Toronto and Montreal could be swapped but I give the Argos the edge mostly on the grounds that they aren’t the Alouettes. Ottawa could surprise but along with the Als their QB situation means they deserve a ‘prove it’.
– Friday night is Fred Stamps night in Edmonton. Even if you aren’t an Esks fan, Freddy’s a guy you had to respect the heck out of. Kickoff is 7:00 p.m. Mountain time.