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2013 CFL Western Preview - Edmonton Eskimos

From The Sports Network

By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Edmonton, AB (Sports Network) - Ask any group of offensive linemen and they'll tell you the same thing. They like to toil in anonymity. The less attention they get, the happier they are.

That won't be the case in Edmonton this year. New general manager Ed Hervey made that clear at the start of training camp.

"If there's ever a position that will be under the close, watchful eye of our department, it'll be the offensive line.

"For many years, we've been frustrated with the play of the offensive line and, I think, it's time for the offensive line to be placed out there as a group that is ... they're being watched," Hervey said. "The offensive line is critical to the performance of these quarterbacks and our running game and our ability to hold the football in very close games when you want to run the ball and execute."

Running the ball is one thing Edmonton didn't do very well last season. The Eskimos averaged just 94 yards rushing a game. By comparison, the league leaders were BC, with 124 yards per game. The Eskimos also gave up the most sacks in the league, a whopping 48, or, 2.6 per game.

To illustrate his point even more, Hervey released three offensive linemen on the first day of camp: center Kyle Koch and tackles Joel Bell and Dale Stevenson. Then, later that day, the Eskimos learned that their nominee for outstanding lineman from 2012, Orrin Thompson, will miss the entire season after he suffered a knee injury.

So, Edmonton's offensive line will be a work in progress, which means it's time for hometown product, and former first-round draft pick (by Hamilton in 2009) Simeon Rottier and Scott Mitchell to step up.

Clearly watching with interest how the offensive line shapes up are the two quarterbacks battling for the No. 1 job. Central Washington's Mike Reilly was acquired in a trade with BC in January. Reilly, who was Travis Lulay's backup appears to have all the tools necessary to become the starter. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder saw action in six games (three starts), in 2012, completing 52 of 75 passes (69.3 percent) for 682 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran the ball 34 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Matt Nichols is also being watched closely, for a number of reasons. Nichols, from Eastern Washington, started two games for Edmonton last season and played in six others. He suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the Eastern semifinal in Toronto and some are wondering how he'll respond to the injury, although Nichols says his ankle has been fully healed since March.

Hugh Charles is the incumbent running back. He had 1,409 yards from scrimmage last season, good enough for fourth in the CFL.

The receiving core is led by Fred Stamps, a four-time CFL All-Star, who had 1,310 yards on 70 catches and nine touchdowns last season, good enough for second in the CFL. Two Canadian products and former first-round draft picks, Shamawd Chambers (2012) and Nate Coehoorn (2011), are both expected to have break-out years.

The strength of the Eskimos is their defensive core. The front four got stronger with the addition of Odell Willis, who played in Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. If Willis concentrates on playing, and stops proclaiming himself the "Mayor of Swaggerville," as he did in Winnipeg, which irked a lot of opponents around the league, he could have a great year.

The linebacking core is led by JC Sherritt, the 2012 Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year, who merely had the most tackles ever in a CFL season (130). Damaso Munoz and T.J. Hill will also start. Munoz ranked fourth in the CFL with 88 tackles while Hill had 80.

When you look at the upcoming season, it appears that the Eskimo defense will have to win some games early in the campaign until the offensive line starts performing as a cohesive unit. The Eskimos were hit hard by the injury bug in 2012 and their fans hope that was just a case of bad luck.

Head coach Kavis Reed was under enormous pressure last season, both on and off the field. He admitted he was stretched too thin; having to deal with things like flights, hotels, meals. etc. This year, his role has been clearly defined by Hervey, a former teammate. With new coordinators on both sides of the ball, this could be another rebuilding year in the City of Champions.

One hopes that Reed, one of the truly good guys in the CFL, will get a chance to see that rebuilding process through to its conclusion.

FACTS & FIGURES: Division - West. 2012 record - 7-11, 4th place in West. Playoff result: lost 42-26 to Toronto in East Division semifinal. Stadium - Commonwealth Stadium. Capacity - 60,217. Colors - Green and Gold.

06/12 15:23:47 ET