EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Eskimos are about to face their final test before the regular season starts, as the defending Grey Cup champion BC Lions invade Commonwealth Stadium on Thursday night for their pre-season finale.
It was a matter of mixed results for these teams a week ago, as the Lions cruised to a comfortable win over the Riders on the shoulders of backup quarterback Mike Reilly, while the Eskimos were conquered in the dying minutes of the game by a resilient young Canadian pivot named Brad Sinopoli.
Sinopoli, the former University of Ottawa Gee-Gee, wasn’t the only backup to garner attention. Week One in CFL pre-season was about backups vying for jobs, and that was most prominent at the quarterback position with an unusually high number of second and third-stringers turning heads.
This week is more about the veterans, and fans watching tonight’s action – at least in the opening quarter – will get a pretty good idea of how their team’s lineup will look on opening day. Both coaches know that tonight will be about shaking off rust and getting back up to game speed.
“We want them to get in there and get a good sweat, a good pace, a good tempo,” Eskimos’ Head Coach Kavis Reed told Esks.com.
“To understand they’re back in football again. The angles, the tackling, all those things are very important toward June 30. Once we get that out of them and we’re confident those guys have that football timing back, we’ll take them out and move on with the game.”
Projected to start at quarterback, at least for now, Steven Jyles was able to slip out of the spotlight last week when he and Kerry Joseph sat out to make way for Matt Nichols, Jeremiah Masoli, and recently-cut Brandon Summers.
But as he returns to game action, the spotlight grows even bigger. Jyles has inherited the daunting task of filling the void left by departed Ricky Ray, who went East in a trade between the Esks and the Argos that saw the teams swap starting quarterbacks.
It’ll be Jyles’ first chance to show the home crowd that he’s capable of running an Esks’ offence that is missing not only its long-time beloved quarterback, but also star running back Jerome Messam, who joined the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in the off-season.
“I’m excited about it,” Jyles told the Eskimos’ official website. “I have a great group of guys here who have surrounded me and I have the chance to just facilitate the ball to these guys and let these guys make plays. I just have to go out and take care of what my job is and put the ball into the playmakers hands.”
Reed says Jyles and Joseph are each expected to get at least a quarter with the first-team offence, while Nichols and Masoli should check-in at some point in the second half.
While all eyes will be on Jyles, who appears to have the starting job wrapped up, the battle going on behind the scenes is between Joseph and Nichols. Joseph was expected to push Jyles for the starting role, but instead he’s been pushed for the backup role by Nichols, who continues to impress the coaching staff.
Receiver Adarius Bowman won’t play on Thursday as he nurses a leg injury, but it’s more precautionary than anything – he’s expected to suit up for the regular season opener on June 30 against Toronto. Other than that, the Eskimos appear healthy just over a week away from opening kickoff.
Like their counterpart, the Lions are also expected to play most of their starters for the entirety of the first half, and possibly even into the third quarter.
Travis Lulay will return to action after showing little rust last week, completing seven of 11 attempts for 72 yards and no interceptions.
But it was Reilly who stole the show, joining the list of backup CFL quarterbacks to make serious waves last week after completing 16 of 24 attempts for 189 yards, along with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also showed off his mobility as the game’s top runner with 58 yards on seven carries.
As the Lions are only carrying three quarterbacks, 23-year-old Thomas DeMarco is also expected to get substantial playing time in the second half. Measuring under six feet, the first-year Old Dominion graduate from San Marino, Calif. has earned the nickname “Little Dunigan” from his Lions teammates.
DeMarco was three for six with 56 yards in mop-up duty against the Riders last week, and with a possible fourth quarterback rumoured to be joining the roster in the next week, the young pivot knows he needs to show something to the coaches.
“You’ve seen a quiet confidence about him in the past few days,” starter Lulay told the Vancouver Sun. “As a new quarterback, there’s a lot to take in here. I’ve told him to be assertive. If you don’t know what you’re doing, at least make everybody think you know what you’re doing.”
Kickoff is at 6:00 pm PT, and can be streamed live on Esks.com.