Elks see ‘encouraging’ signs from new QB Taylor Cornelius, despite turnover-heavy debut

Photo courtesy: George Fourlaris/Edmonton Elks

19-of-33 for 243 yards, three interceptions and a fumble. For the box score watchers, Taylor Cornelius’ first CFL stat line is unlikely to inspire much confidence in the Edmonton Elks’ quarterback situation with Trevor Harris out with a neck injury.

That’s not a sentiment shared internally however. Even after the Elks fell to the Bombers thanks in part to several key turnovers from the rookie, the team stood behind their new  quarterback. Stat sheets don’t account for the intangibles he brought to the table, nor do they do justice to a player forced into the lineup on short notice with limited first team reps.

“Listen, for having one day of practice I thought [Cornelius] came out and showed some things that were really, really encouraging. I thought the guys responded really well to him. He didn’t get flustered,” Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo was quick to point out post-game.

“I know he’s going to be hard on himself with the mistakes he made. He’s going to look at the stat line and say ‘oh man,’ but those interceptions were a credit to the defence, they had some good breaks on the ball. Overall, I think he’s got a bright future.”

That sentiment was echoed by star running back James Wilder Jr., who hammered home two scoring drives drives from Cornelius. Both player and coach lauded the rookie for the plays he made with his feet and outside of structure.

“He kept drives alive. He gave me some dump passes that the play wasn’t drawn up like that. He kept a lot of plays alive,” Wilder said, pivoting blame for the loss to the rest of the offence.

“I think we had a few plays, one or two plays, that we shot ourselves in the foot and we gave them some points. We’ve got to get back into the film room and fix those things.”

Some of those mistakes came in the receiving corps, where one practice with Cornelius under centre this week simply wasn’t enough to get any chemistry. Timing was just slightly off throughout and some normally productive targets struggled to get going, most notably Derel Walker. The four-time all star was targeted nine time, but made just two catches for 34 yards while struggling to reign in a number of fast balls from his quarterback.

“I think across the board part of that is having played one day with a new quarterback, because even in training camp when Taylor was getting reps, he was getting reps with the two receivers,” Elizondo explained.

“That ball comes out faster off Taylor’s hand. It’s got more zip, it’s got more velocity. I think there’s a learning process there for all of the receivers getting used to catching #15’s ball because it comes with more heat, but I’m disappointed in that stat line and I know Dee Walker will be too.”

While his coaches and teammates deflected the blame, Cornelius himself wasn’t having any of it. There was no lack of chemistry from where he was standing in the pocket, just poor decisions on his part.

“I don’t think that was our problem. I think it was just unfortunately timed mistakes on my part, throwing a pick six and fumbling it and then them getting points on that,” a visibly disappointed Cornelius said at the podium.

“I can’t turn the ball over like we did today. We got two turnovers that led to points offensively and that was a difference in the ballgame.”

A DeAundre Alford pick six and a Willie Jefferson strip-sack at the goal line are mistakes that Cornelius will be thinking about for a long time, souring his CFL debut, but they didn’t cost his team’s support in the slightest.

“I’m proud of Taylor. I think he held it down,” Wilder Jr. emphasized. “He’s already ready to watch film, that just shows what type of a competitor he is and we’ll fix these mistakes and keep going. We don’t flinch, man.”

Cornelius felt that support throughout the night and his confidence remains unshaken. He’ll be ready to gun it again in two weeks time with the understanding that in the CFL, the 2-4 Elks are far from out of the hunt.

“We feel like this team is always just one play away from breaking it open and we’ve got a lot of confidence moving forward,” he said. “I know this was a loss, but this team is ready to go on a roll and that’s what we’re going to do.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.