ESKI­MOS

Play­ers ex­tol virtues of Las Ve­gas mini-camp

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - gmod­de­jonge@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Ger­ryMod­de­jonge mm­c­cormick@post­media.com

Call it the pre-pre­sea­son. LAS VE­GAS

When the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos wrapped up a three-day mini­camp at the Univer­sity of Ne­vadaLas Ve­gas on Tues­day, they didn’t just see how their ros­ter was shap­ing up, they were al­ready get­ting their pre-sea­son un­der­way.

With play­ers sched­uled to re­port to Ed­mon­ton on May 19 to kick off the main train­ing camp be­fore play­ing two ex­hi­bi­tion games in six days, there wasn’t a lot of time to shoot the breeze — or craps, in this case.

“It’s just an ex­ten­sion of train­ing camp, be­cause seven days into train­ing camp, we’ve got our first game,” said sec­ond-year Eski­mos de­fen­sive back Jor­dan Hoover.

“Coach Bene (de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Mike Bene­v­ides) was say­ing we’ve got to get stuff in­stalled be­cause there are still pack­ages we need to get in, and putting that in the small time-frame of a week is go­ing to be very stress­ful on play­ers and coaches.

“So this was a great op­por­tu­nity for us to learn and to bond, be­cause it’s one thing to be out there play­ing with 12 guys you’re un­fa­mil­iar with, and then you play with 12 guys you’re re­ally close with. You un­der­stand each other, your speed, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion; every­one’s shoot­ing on all cylin­ders.”

Well, not quite every­one. Af­ter an off-sea­son that saw the team bid farewell to fan favourites Odell Wil­lis and Adar­ius Bow­man, quar­ter­back Mike Reilly found him­self the Lone Amigo for the first time in green and gold at mini-camp.

“It was tough with the turnover — which you know what I’m talk­ing about with Adar­ius and Odell, two very close friends of mine — but it was the right move for us and the right move for them,” Reilly said.

“So they’re in a much bet­ter sit­u­a­tion and our team is as well, and I think that proved it th­ese three days of mini-camp.

“This didn’t feel like a mini­camp. I’ve been to four of them. I didn’t go last year be­cause vets weren’t al­lowed to be at that one, based on the time of year that they had it, but my pre­vi­ous mini­camps it was just quar­ter­backs and a bunch of free-agent guys.”

This time, every healthy body on the ros­ter, all 72 in to­tal, was present.

“So this was like train­ing camp, mi­nus get­ting Sawmill food in the Jackie Parker room, and the day’s much more con­densed,” Reilly said. “Train­ing-camp days seem to go for­ever. Here, it seemed like we were off the field very quickly.

“But in terms of the in­stall and the dif­fi­culty level of the plays we were putting in, we were not putting in ba­sic of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive plays — Bene was bring­ing a lot of crazy pres­sures, we had a lot of mo­tions and stuff — and I like how they did it be­cause it’s go­ing to give us a head start on train­ing camp. I think it was nec­es­sary to do it.”

Any sore legs from mini-camp will now have three weeks to re­cu­per­ate and get con­di­tioned for the real thing. But head coach Ja­son Maas said the work ethic has ob­vi­ously been there over the off-sea­son.

“We chal­lenged our guys at the

I feel like we’re so much bet­ter as a foot­ball team right now than we were at the end of last year, and that’s en­cour­ag­ing.

end of the year when they left to be in the best shape, to be able to start and play spe­cial teams as well, with the mind­set to do that,” Maas said.

“And I think our guys an­swered the chal­lenge. There weren’t any guys that slowed down in the three days we were here. They put a lot of work in. I was very im­pressed with the whole group.

“... I feel like we’re so much bet­ter as a foot­ball team right now than we were at the end of last year, and that’s en­cour­ag­ing.”

For Eski­mos gen­eral man­ager Brock Sun­der­land, the close of camp co­in­cided with his one-year an­niver­sary on the job Tues­day.

“It’s been very busy. Fun, pro­duc­tive, you learn that you’re a bet­ter team when you’re not go­ing over 100 play­ers on your ros­ter, so a lit­tle bap­tism by fire in that re­gard,” Sun­der­land said. “But a good year over­all.

“Hope­fully, I learned a lot. I hope if I’m for­tu­nate enough to be here for 20 years, that each year I learn as much as I did this year. That’s the goal.”

From here, the Eski­mos will be gear­ing up for main camp by par­ing down their ros­ter num­bers.

“We have 85 right now, we have to cut to 75 by mid­night of April 30, so (for) some young guys that are rook­ies or maybe guys that we picked up out there, (mini-camp was) a com­pe­ti­tion.”

TRENT SCH­NEI­DER/ED­MON­TON ESKI­MOS

De­fen­sive end Alex Bazzie, right, takes on of­fen­sive tackle Colin Kelly during mini-camp drills Mon­day in Las Ve­gas. The Eski­mos used their mini-camp in Las Ve­gas to in­stall new of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive schemes and get the full ros­ter of 72 play­ers up to speed with the changes. It was also a chance for coaches to check the play­ers’ fit­ness lev­els com­ing out of the off-sea­son.

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