It’s like trying to replace Mickey, Willie and the Duke.
The Edmonton Eskimos are in training camp trying to replace Derel Walker, Brandon Zylstra and Duke Williams?
Yes, the Eskimos acquired the next best available QB to replace Mike Reilly in Trevor Harris.
And, yes, with left tackle SirVincent Rogers, also obtained from Ottawa, Harris should have the protection.
And, yes, by acquiring Harris’ go-to-guy Greg Ellingson, the new quarterback has one certified star receiver.
But how do you replace Walker, Zylstra, Williams and Bryant Mitchell in the receiving corps? They’re all gone.
As the Eskimos head to their first pre-season game Sunday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium against the B.C. Lions, that has to be The Question.
Last year, Williams led the league in receiving with 88 catches for 1,579 yards.
The year before Zylstra, playing 16 games, had 100 catches for 1,687 yards to lead the league. Both are now in the NFL.
In 2017, the Eskimos were 1-2 in pass receiving with Adarias Bowman at 120 catches for 1,761 yards and Walker hauling in 19 for 1,589. Back from the NFL, Walker, playing only 11 games due to injury, still managed to make 51 catches for 875 yards last season. Walker was the CFL’s top rookie in 2015 with 89 catches in only 12 games for 1,110 yards. He left for the Toronto Argos in free agency.
Mitchell had a breakout year making 60 receptions for 869 yards in 10 games.
He’s currently attempting to land an NFL job as well, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They were the Edmonton Air Show.
So, how do you replace all that?
Training camp is a time for unbridled optimism and at the end of Day 3, the Eskimos weren’t lacking for it.
I asked Maas if he felt the Eskimos would be taking a bit of a step back in terms of the expected overall contribution from the receiving corps and he answered without reservation.
“I don’t expect to. Not at all.”
Harris said he likes the looks of the weapons he’s been presented with to use so far.
“I think it’s obvious we have a lot of talent,” said the QB who threw for 5,116 with the group of receivers, including Ellingson, he had to work with last year in Ottawa.
Ellingson recorded reception yardage totals of 1,061, 1,260, 1,459 and 1,086 in his last four seasons.
“I think Brock Sunderland did a good job of bringing in talent that fits this offence – guys who are sudden, guys who can catch and can get separation. That’s what the CFL is all about – guys who can be physical at the top of their routes, be physical within their routes and catch the ball and make something happen afterwards,” said Harris.
Maas says first impressions have been good.
“I see competition. That’s what I see first and foremost. When you bring in guys like Greg Ellingson, DeVaris Daniels and Ricky Collins Jr., they are guys who have done it in our league and you can see why from Day 1.
“With the younger guys we have, right now they’re learning the playbook. They’re playing a little slower than they will a week from now,” he said of the likes of Tyler Batson, Bryce Bobo, Torrance Gibson and Tevaun Smith.
“Before Zylstra was here, he hadn’t played in the CFL. In his first year, he was a role player then became who he was from hard work and determination. It was the same with Derel, Duke and Bryant. They were all very talented players who did the most with their opportunity. I see those same attributes with many of our receivers. I’m expecting the talent to rise and I’m expecting them to be professionals like all those guys were,” said Maas.
“All those guys figured out what it took to be successful in this offence and our league. I like what I see out of most of these guys. But to say they’re going to be the next this or the next that … I just want them to be themselves.”
Perhaps the poster boy for the collection of potential replacements for Walker, Williams, Zylstra or Mitchell is Daniels, the former Calgary Stampeder.
“To me, Daniels is a lot like Zylstra was his first year here. In a limited number of games, he produced,” Maas said.
“For any receiver to produce at a really high level, you have to play 18 games. Daniels has yet to play 18 games. But whenever DeVaris has been in there, he’s produced. That’s one of the reasons we went out and got DeVaris.”
Daniels has missed one-third of every season he’s played with an injury. He played 11 games in 2016 and ended up with 51 catches for 885 yards. In 2017 he played 13 games and had 47 receptions for 743 yards. Last year, he had 50 catches for 747 yards in 12 games. His most impressive stats are the seven pass receptions for 87 yards and 11 catches for 113 yards in his two Grey Cup games. He missed last year’s game due to injury.
Daniels said he believes this is the time and place for his career to take off.
“To me, sitting back and looking at it this off-season, I felt like if I could put together a healthy season, I think I’m one of the top receivers in this league.
“Knowing this offence from playing against it with Calgary, it felt like the right fit for me. Coming off a championship but not playing in the Grey Cup, it kind of gave me time to think about what’s important, becoming a father seven weeks ago, I had to start thinking about my family, so this was a no-brainer for me. It came down to Calgary or Edmonton and I chose Edmonton.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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