Evolution of the Eskimos Defense Almost Complete

In 2015, the Edmonton Eskimos passing defense was 2nd in yards and 1st in touchdowns given up. Against the rush the Eskies were 2nd in yards and 2nd in touchdowns surrendered. The Chris Jones schemed defense was widely accepted as one of the top two defenses and that defense led the Esks to a Grey Cup win. The key to the defense was man-to-man secondary that boasted Dex McCoil, JC Sherritt, Otha Foster, Pat Watkins, Aaron Grymes and John Ojo. The ability to play man allowed Jones to run an attacking front seven and even blitz off the edge for 48 sacks good enough for 3rd best in the CFL.

Then it happened, Jones left and the secondary scattered to the wind except for Sherritt and Watkins, with the later turning 34-years-old going into the 2016 season. With so many gaps in the secondary and a full on rebuild of the defense needed the Esks floundered in 2016. Ojo was injured in camp, Watkins struggled and so did Marcell Young. Both Cord Parks and Brandyn Thompson were parachuted in after the younger DB’s brought in simply could not grasp the zone coverages of the Eskies new scheme. The Esks dropped to 6th against the pass and 6th against the run, but even more importantly the team dropped to 8th in sacks in 2016.

Coach Benevides continued the defensive rebuild in 2017 by redistributing the national ratio by making the WIL LB spot a national position. This allowed the Esks to move to an inside pocket collapsing pass rush and Da’Quan Bowers and Euclid Cummings were signed. At the same time the secondary was completely revamped. National 2nd rounder Arjen Colquhoun would be signed to play the field corner next to Thompson and Kenny Ladler. On the boundary side Aaron Grymes returned from the NFL part way through the season to play halfback and Johnny Adams was signed to play corner. Adam Konar ascended into a starters role at WLB with the ability to cover, tackle and blitz occasionally. The Esks jumped to 4th in sacks with mostly four-man pressure, 2nd against the pass, but still 8th against the rush.

In 2018 the goal must be to continue to evolve the four-man pressure with the use of twists that allows new comer Alex Bazzie to swing inside and Bowers to swing outside while Sherritt or a newcomer like Ahmad Dixon shoots the gap created. Some may not know that Bowers and secondary year player Mike Moore can and have played both DT and DE. That is important to the Esks ability to run a decent twist as essentially Bowers, Bazzie and Moore can be interchanged to surprise the offensive line by doing the unexpected. The key to this more creative look will be Sherritt and Dixon who will be run stuffers and QB blitzing LB’s.

On the opposite side of the line it is critical that the stay in your lane philosophy continues with well liked second year defensive end Kwaku Boateng who gets a vote of confidence to be the national edge setter. As Almondo Sewell continues to draw double coverage Boateng will be one-on-one with the LT and must find ways to flush the QB or RB back over to Bowers, Bazzie and Moore chaotic side of the line.

The physicality of the nickel DB will be paramount in 2018, but this same player must be multi talented and be able to cover in space on the field side. Ahmad Dixon has already played this role at Baylor and in the NFL making him the front runner. However, don’t count out Alex Gray or Chris Edwards both big bodies and fast. Edwards also can return kicks and could be brought in on sub-packages or might outright win the camp battle.

Most Esks fans expect Johnny Adams, Aaron Grymes, Neil King, Brandyn Thompson, and Arjen Colquhoun to be penciled in as starters and that is probably the case. However, the health of Neil King and Brandyn Thompson must be considered. With Thompson suffering a season-ending ruptured left Achilles then Forest Hightower who be considered the incumbent starter. Hightower could be pushed by veteran Buddy Jackson, newcomer Money Hunter and even Edwards who has also played the position. Neil King did make a comeback, but will be pushed by Josh Woodman, Jordan Hoover, and even recently selected Jordan Beaulieu.

Coach Benevides continues to look for aggressive cover guys in his secondary that can read and break on the ball. The entire secondary success is predicated on two things, working as a unit and players that close quickly to pass defend. In 2017, the Esks had 57 pass defense and in 2016 the secondary had 50 both were up over 2015 which saw 43 pass defenses. Adams and Grymes is simply the best the Esks have at this and as such both should be expected to start. Of the newcomers Dixon, Hunter and Hoover all fit the bill as aggressive cover guys. So does recently selected Godfrey Onyeka, but Onyeka will be given time to grow into the corner role behind Colquhoun.

What does all this mean? Expect Adams – Grymes – King (with Hoover taking over eventually) – Hightower (with Hunter taking over eventually) and Colquhoun in the secondary. The nickel DB will be Dixon with Edwards platooning playing next to Sherritt and Konar. This group should drive 60 pass defenses and 20 interceptions behind a defensive line that should push for 50 sacks of a twist with to Boateng, Sewell, Bowers and Bazzie as the starts on the front four.

The problem is that the word "evolution" has positive connotations and I really don't see anything "positive" about the Eskimos" defensive efforts against the Ti-Cats yesterday evening. Surrendering 38 points, 528 yards and notching a TSN Fantasy score of -1 at home is just plain awful.


Wow, excellent post DPop13. There's a recent bit of history I hadn't known / considered.

The Eskies defence against the Ti-Cats was forced to play many young starters. With both starting, CB's Johnny Adams, Arjen Colquhoun on the six-gameright out of camp the Eskies played JordanHoover (2nd year CFL) and Nicholas Taylor (1st year CFL). However, it was the Adama Konar injury that forced WLB Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga (2nd year CFL) in as a starter that the Ti-Cats exploited.

Although they played well Chris Edwards for the departed Kenny Ladler and Money Hunter in for forest Hightower means there 8/12 starters changed from 2017 to 2018. The short preseason dictates that defences will be well behind offences and then mix in the amount of change it would be moronic to state the Esks defence as awful or good. The intelligent thing would be to wait and see the Esks 4-2 hybrid defence evolves.

Against B.C. the Esks defence was adjusted by inserting McKnight at field CB and the Eskies came up with 5 sacks and plenty of pressure. The pressure and the coverage led to a Money Hunter pick, something he attempted versus the Ti-Cats and missed leading to a Luke Task TD. Holding the Lions to under200 yards passing and under 25 points was a victory for the Esks defence.

Against the Argos last night the offence was more the problem. The Esks offence has to own the opposition's defence both on the scoreboard and time of possession early on in the game for the 4-2 hybrid defence to work. If the Esks defence has to blitz or get out of their lanes they are susceptible to the dink and dunk underneath passing.

When the Esks offence comes out and fumbles, misses a field goal and throws an interception rather than driving for points it puts the defence in a hole and forces them to gamble more. Overall the defence held fairly well against the Argos keeping the Argos under 225 yards passing with an interception and a sack. The Eskies offence cannot have 7 penalties for 62 yards and expect to win.

The Esks defence will continue to build with the young talent in the first six games and as veterans come off the six-game the defence will evolve into a deep top 4 defence. Keep in mind in the CFL it is not how you start but how you finish. Just ask Stampeder fans who have been disappointed with their teams finish over the last two years.