How does a team that finishes with the Canadian Football League’s top passing-yards leader, receiving-yards leader and net-yards production end up missing out on the playoffs entirely?
It’s the question that has been haunting Edmonton Eskimos fans all off-season after suffering the embarrassment of having their city host the Grey Cup while their team couldn’t even earn an invite to the post-season party.
And while there is no guarantee the Eskimos will end up with the same offensive excellence, given both quarterback Mike Reilly and star receiver Duke Williams left in free agency, it’s obvious to all, both inside the offices at Commonwealth Stadium and out, the defence needs to hold up more of its end of the bargain.
At the very least, that’s the expectation of Phillip Lolley, who is taking over the team’s defensive coordinator position that was held by Mike Benevides for the past three years.
“When you’re sitting there in a long season, as it is, you hope that every week is a happy week of football, but it just doesn’t happen that way,” said Lolley, who is back in Edmonton, where he served as linebackers coach on the way to the 2015 Grey Cup championship, before leaving with the rest of Chris Jones’s coaching staff for Regina. “You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. When things are not always perfect, we’ve got to find a way. So that’s the type of player I want. Guys that will give you everything they’ve got.”
Not that the defence is solely to blame for last year’s letdown. But Lolley knows from first-hand experience he can get more out of his side of the ball.
“I’m an effort guy, and everybody that knows me or has played for me knows that the one thing over anything else — guys that run fast, jump high, yeah, you want guys that do all the physical things — is using it, I want guys it matters to,” said Lolley, who most recently coordinated a Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence that included Larry Dean and Don Unamba, who are both now part of Edmonton’s linebacking corps. “And we’ve got some players that I know I’ve coached before and some of them are still with Edmonton.”
While the defensive buck stops at his desk, Lolley said it’s not his job alone to get things back to the championship calibre he left them.
“This is not my defence. Wherever I’ve ever been, I will build a defence around our people: Meaning my assistant coaches, meaning my players, meaning myself. It isn’t my defence, it is our defence. And me overlooking it, I’m going to try to give us the best chance to use what we have to get the utmost out of them. And they’re going to be part of that, I mean, I do listen to these people.”
Eskimos fans have spent the better part of the last three years screaming for a too-much-bend, too-much-break defence to crank up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, more along the lines of what they had been used to seeing under his predecessor, Jones.
And while Jones employed a match-up style defence, more along the lines of basketball strategy, Lolley abides by the philosophy of pressure defence.
“Believe it or not, people that know Chris and me will tell you I’m more pressure-oriented than Chris is,” said Lolley. “I’ve always got the philosophy that if you’re getting to the quarterback with four (pass-rushers), that’s your perfect number.
“A lot of people like to send three, and this. I’m not much into that. I’m going to send four or more, as my philosophy. Do I have some three-man package stuff? Yes, but it’s not exactly what everybody else does with three-package stuff.”
It’s simple mathematics when you’re coaching out of a boiler room.
“If I can’t get to you with four, I’m coming with five,” Lolley said. “If I can’t get to you with five, I’m coming with six. I’m not one to just sit there, I want quarterbacks to earn their money. That’s just my philosophy.
“Of course, we’re going to try to be able to do it all and see what we’re capable of doing on talent and come up with a plan. All of us are going to sit down and nothing will be 100 per cent sure until I look at all the talent, look at all the practice tape, get the men in there and get them fighting together. And then we’ll have a plan at that point.”
Sounds like a plan already.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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