Players extol virtues of Las Vegas mini-camp
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.”
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.