The Edmonton Elks got the benefit of an additional week of uninterrupted training camp practice after wrapping up their preseason early, but none of that time was spent focused on their Week 1 opponent, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“We didn’t talk about Saskatchewan at all. Again, that’s the first time that word’s come out of my mouth,” head coach and general manager Chris Jones told the media after training camp concluded.
“I told them I don’t want to hear anything about Saskatchewan until we come back for day one and so that’s what we’ve been holding to. Worry about us and let’s get good at what we’re doing and then let all the other things take care of themselves.”
The Elks are scheduled to host the Riders for their season opener on Sunday, June 11, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EDT. The team has not won a game at Commonwealth Stadium since October 12, 2019, and has been winless at home in each of the past two seasons, setting a record for the longest home losing streak in pro football history at 17 games.
They’ll be attempting to break that streak against Saskatchewan, a team with whom Jones has a long history. After winning the Grey Cup as Edmonton’s head coach in 2015, the defensive guru was lured to the Riders in exchange for a hefty contract and organizational control. He would post a 27-27 record over three seasons with the team but was never far from the spotlight due to his reputation for cutting popular veterans and bending league roster rules.
The Riders appeared ready to become contenders during Jones’ final season in 2018, posting a 12-6 record and finishing second in the West Division. He signed a two-year contract extension in January of 2019 but suddenly resigned one week later after accepting a position with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, leaving many in Saskatchewan with a bad taste in their mouth.
After brief stints with South Pittsburg High School in Tennessee and the Toronto Argonauts, Jones returned to Edmonton in 2022 as head coach and general manager. He posted a 4-14 record during a difficult first season and initially struggled against his old team, losing each of his first two matchups with the 6-12 Riders. The 55-year-old finally notched a victory in Week 15, beating Saskatchewan by a score of 26-24.
Despite the ever-present rivalry, Jones and his staff have focused on their own team heading into the season opener in the hopes that a new culture will bring improved results.
“The culture of what we’re doing and the guys that we’re bringing in, we wanted to make sure that we looked at that very closely to make sure,” he stressed. “Guys have got to enjoy coming to work, being around one another because it’s a marathon. Guys have to be looking forward — and I’m speaking players and coaches — to seeing one another and making sure that you’re all working and pulling the same weight.”
The Elks made major changes to their roster this offseason, bringing in a revamped receiving corps headlined by CFL all-star Eugene Lewis. They also added a number of former Riders, including defensive end A.C. Leonard and receiver Kyran Moore.
Each will be itching for a chance to go after their former club on Sunday. Now that the first week of the season is set to begin, Jones will finally allow that to become a consideration.
“We’re three weeks into this thing and so now it’s time to turn our focus,” he said. “After watching the preseason games and evaluating the personnel of the preseason games, then we’ll turn focus on our opponent.”