Top 5 newcomers to watch on the Edmonton Eskimos in 2018

With Min-Camps getting closer there are 5 newcomers to watch on the Edmonton Eskimos in Las Vegas, into main camp and beyond:

#5 QB Eli Jenkins
23-years-old 6'2" 210-pound Jacksonville State product.

Ranked 30 out of 138 QB's going into the 2017 draft, Jenkins went undrafted but did spend time in the Chargers camp in 2017. From 2013 to 2016 while with JSU he appeared in 52 games and completed 583 – 1031 passes for 7652 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions. Jenkins also rushed 636 times for 3,796 yards and 42 touchdowns. Jenkins was a highly touted NCAA FCS player earning:

• 2016 All-American
• 2016 OVC Offensive Player of the Year
• 2015-16 OVC Male Athlete of The Year
• 2015 OVC Player Of The Year
• 2015 FCS Quarterback Of The Year
• 2015 All-American
• 2015 First Team All-OVC
• 2014 First Team All-OVC
• 2013 Freshman All-American
• National Player of the Week (twice)

All NCAA accolades and stats aside watching film on Jenkins screams perfect for the CFL. A reasonable sized 4.6 to 4.7 / 40 running QB who can throw an accurate ball on the run. Many scouts considered him a strong armed dual threat QB who looks a lot like Mike Reilly in his early days. Does Jenkins need pro reps to develop? Yes, he does. First, he needs to prove he is the next one and should be no lower than QB3. With Kevin Glenn as a hedge bet by Brock Sunderland, the next step after Jenkins establishes himself in camp as the QB3 will be to establish doubt if Glenn is the QB2 or if Jenkins should be the QB2. By the end of 2018 Jenkins should be QB2 waiting in the wings for an opportunity to be a QB1.

Jenkins development will make the trade of James Franklin for Mason Woods more palatable for most Eskie fans.

#4 DE Devonte Fields
24-years-old 6’ 4? 242-pounds Louisville

Fields turned in one of the best freshman seasons in Big 12 history with 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, earning First Team All-Conference and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. In his second season with TCU he was suspended for the first two games for a violation of team rules and wound up playing just one game because of a foot injury. In a year to forget he was even robbed at gun point and left TCU to rethink life.

In 2014, Fields transferred to Trinity Valley Community College and appeared in 12 games recording 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Fields then transferred to Louisville where in 2015 he appeared in 13 games and recorded 63 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. In 2016 once again slowed by injury played 11 games tallying 45 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss and 6 sacks, earning First Team All-ACC honors and garnering a ranking of 22 out of 188 OLB's.

Fields offers raw pass rush potential as a pro prospect who uses his 4.6 to 4.7 / 40 speed and flexible body control to beat offensive tackles. Fields would have been a first or second round NFL choice except for his injuries and off-field baggage that created doubt among NFL scouts. If Fields can show he is healthy and committed to play pro ball with the Eskimos he will explode on to the CFL scene. However, if he lacks the drive and desire the Esks will have to go with plan B of a National DE in Kwaku Boateng starting a year earlier without rookie Mark Mackie ready to backup or plan C developing either Darius Allen or Nick Usher.

Esks are betting on Fields being hungry and expelling the demons at least for one year.

#3 SLB Ahmad Dixon
26-years-old 6’ 0? 210-pounds Baylor

Unless he completely implodes Dixon should take over for Kenny Ladler at the Sam LB / Nickle DB as a starter for the Eskies. After all Dixon became the starter at Baylor's nickel "Bear" position (hybrid LB/S) that is very similar to the Eskies Sam LB / Nickle DB. While at Baylor he collected 288 tackles, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 9 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. Dixon was named first-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 in 2013 leading to a 7 out of 144 SS ranking and then to the Dallas Cowboys selecting him in the 7th round in 2014.

After being selected Dixon led the Cowboys in tackles with 11 and made several impact plays in the Cowboys’ first 3 preseason games. He reaped praise from head coach Jason Garrett in 2014. Garrett said, “For him to show up as much as he did and as well as he did … he was fast, he was decisive, he was physical, he knocked them back … He was a good example for a lot of the other guys as to what we’re looking for. For him to do that in Week 1 of his rookie year, it was impressive.? The shine came off the early showing after week 3 of the 2014 preseason as Dixon made a rookie mistake missing a team meeting and landing in Garrett’s dog house. He never recovered in Dallas and bounce from Dallas to Minnesota Vikings to the Chicago Bears and then the Miami Dolphins.

Dixon is a hard hitter who possesses 4.3 or 4.4 / 40 speed and closes fast to the ball. Secure, wrap tackler. Takes efficient angles and is a reliable last line of defense. Good backside chase pursuit. A perfect fit that can improve upon the Eskies biggest weakness last year, run stopping.

Dixon should be one of two new starters on the Esks defense.

#2 SB Juron Criner
28-years-old 6’ 3? 220-pounds Arizona

While attending the NCAA’s Arizona program, Criner caught 209 passes for 2,859 yards and 32 touchdowns. In 2010, Criner appeared in 13 games and caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. As impressive as that total was, Criner picked up his play in 2011, enjoying one of the best seasons ever by a Wildcat receiver. Criner earned First Team All Pac-10 accolades with 82 catches for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. Proving his breakout junior campaign was no fluke, Criner posted similar numbers in 2011, registering 75 catches for 956 yards and another 11 TDs as a senior.

Criner was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and appeared in 12 games and caught 16 passes for 151 yards in his rookie season. Criner appeared in one game in the 2013 season before he was injured and spent the remainder of the year on the injured reserve and the following year spent time with the New York Giants as a member of their practice roster.

The scouting report on Criner that he is a lanky but athletic receiver who uses his jumping ability and large catch radius to his advantage when going up for jump balls. He runs crisp routes and is explosive off the line of scrimmage. Criner gets a clean release with ease by using quickness and power, and he understands how to stem his routes to keep cornerbacks off him. He is deceptively agile for such a tall player and is a reliable option in short areas. He can use his lateral agility to make defenders miss and get up the field for yards after the catch. He is a natural who works well against zone defenses and finds his openings and quickly work up field.

Criner comes to the Esks from the Redblacks where he was under utilized seeing only 48 targets in two years. Yet is good hands, 4.4 or 4.5 / 40 speed, size and leaping ability makes him a great fit to replace Brandon Zylstra at rover slotback. At 28-years-old it is now or never for Criner and the Esks are betting he will rise to the opportunity, but if he doesn’t they have hedged with Kenny Stafford.

Right now it’s a 50/50 bet on Criner or Stafford, but Criner is a Sunderland find and Stafford is not.

#1 DE Alex Bazzie
27-years-old 6’ 1? 228-pounds Marshall

Alex Bazzie was not a big-time star in the NCAA with Marshall ranking 120 out of 182 OLB's in 2014 and going undrafted. Yet Bazzie, while attending Marshall, recorded solid numbers 175 tackles, 23 for a loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass defenses. Going undrafted Bazzie attended the Cleveland Browns rookie camp after going unselected in the 2014 NFL Draft.

It was his ability to seize an opportunity with the B.C. Lions and his play in last four seasons playing 56 games, collecting 117 tackles, 33 sacks, 6 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. His CFL play caught the attention of the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, and Arizona Cardinals.

The scouting report on Bazzie is that he’s really well-built, fast, highly competitive and tough player. He’s a straight-line athlete who can run and has been a good pass-rusher in the CFL. He’s got quickness off the ball, knows how to use his hands. He’s never going to be a real powerful end because he struggles to get down and rush with leverage but he has some unique skills and he competes. If he gets stopped with his first push, he keeps coming and coming.

Even as an under sized pass rusher Bazzie can play both edge setter and rush end making him flexible to play both defensive end spots. That allows the Esks to work with both Fields and Boateng as a quasi-starter as Bazzie bounces between the weak and strong side depending on the situation. This could allow the Eskies to play Bazzie on 80% of the snaps and both Fields and Boateng at 60% in three player rotation.

Bazzie benefits from the inside pass rush of Sewell and Bowers increasing his sack number substantially.

An honorable mention goes to Devante “Speedy? Noil who has 4.3 or 4.4 / 40 speed and plenty of kick returner ability coming out of Texas A&M and possesses a bigger frame at 5’ 11? 199 pounds. He could be the new punt / kick returner in Edmonton.

Hope you're right about Dixon, we need some help at linebacker. Bazzie is a great addition!

The Esks are hedging their bets with Idaho productChris Edwards andAlex Gray of Appalachian State.

Edwards played largely as a backup and punt/kick returner in 2017, but did have good defensive numbers with 16 defensive tackles, 4 special team tackles and 1 int for a TD as a backup. Alex Grey was on the PR from October onward and is listed at 6' 3" 225 pounds, which makes him the biggest of all three with Edwards being 6' 2" 217 and Dixon 6' 0" 210 pounds.

All three can hit and all three can cover, but Dixon has actually played the unique nickel DB position before and that gives him the edge to win the job. For me the video on Dixon shows pound for pound he is the most aggressive and a big playmaker, just like Ladler. Like Ladler he has a real hunger to play pro ball and was working on his game in the Spring League last month.

Dixon is my pick to win the job not just because he is the fastest, most athletic, experienced, most aggressive and most driven of the three. He is also the best against the run of the three and that is an issue the Esks need to fix in 2018. The Esks were second last in average per game run yards against and that was in part due to tackling. Konar - Sherritt - Dixon would all be solid tacklers and both Konar and Dixon would give two hard hitters at linebacker. Sherritt and Dixon gives the linebacking corps speed.

I think Bazzie is the top FA pick up in the CFL.

Could change the whole dynamic of that defense.

If I had to pick one team right now to win the west it would be Edmonton. They have a lot of stability, continuity and talent.

Don't get me wrong I was pissed when Odell Willis was traded, because of his leadership and the fact that he has set the edge so well over the last five years. Some people claimed it was age thing, others a salary cap thing and yet others simply believe Sunderland is put his stamp on the team.

However, Brock Sunderland (Sundy) is playing chess while other GMs are playing checkers. The Willis move was about scheme shift and flexibility in scheme with the intent to signing Bazzie the whole time. Sundy made a risk preamble move of a one dimensional, but skilled player in Millis to get a multi-dimensional player in Bazzie.

Now the Eskies DC Benevidescan use Bazzie at either DE position. He can play the Edge Setting DE next to Bowers that Willis played or he can bounce to Rush DE spot that Howard, Hunt and Chick have vacated. Heck he can bounce between the two from game to game or even series to series. This would give CFL QB's another pre-snap read to make ... where's Bazzie, where's Konar, what are the depths and widths of the DB's including the nickel DB.

I fully expect the Esks to play Bazzie - Sewell - Bowers - Fields on 6+ yard downs and on 6- downs Boateng - Sewell - Bowers - Bazzie. Then mix in Mike Moore/Jake Ceresna inside and one of either Mark Mackie or Darius Allen/NickUsher at DE. This should make for a dynamic mix increases sack totals and also allows for run stopping, something the Esks need desperately.

Ahmad Dixion will also be a key on defense against the run and in underneath coverage. Dixon, Sherritt and Konar cannot allow the dink and dunk passing that the Stamps used in the Western Final to get back into the game. As Dixon goes, so does the Esks D, because with no outlet pass or run game the interior line push and edge DE clean up tactics will make the Esk d-line the top dog in 2018. Mostly on coverage type of sacks.

I agree. Willis was a one dimensional guy and I think it was a move that had Bazzie in mind. Willis had a lot of miles on him as well.
They have Grymes back too and he will be welcomed back in a full season role. I was surprised no one snapped him up actually.

And DPop…thanks for your posts on EE. They’re great.

Grymes is one of my favorite players. A mix of smart, athletic and aggressive. For Coach Bennie's secondary scheme to work an aggressive halfback on the boundary side is a must have. The switch from the field halfback spot to the boundary has been good for Grymes and the Eskimos as his timing on key opposition receivers is near perfect.

When Johnny Adams became a free agent last year I wanted him to sign with the Esks. Together with Grymes playing bump and run cover on the boundary side with Grymes the Esks are fairly solid against the oppositions top receivers. The Esks play a lot of a hybrid cover 2 with the Safety and the field CB staying high. Grymes and Adams are on two distinct islands playing man in this defense. I think both are up to the task.

On the field sideColquhoun and King are the two high DB's in the zone with newcomer Dixon and backup Hightower playing the under coverage of the zone. I like Dixon a lot, but I am not sold on Hightower and Dixon needs a partner on the outside of the lower zone. With Brandyn Thompson most likely still recovering from an Achilles injury the Esks will be forced to play the 5' 10" 186 pound Hightower. Buddy Jackson and Money Hunter will push Hightower.

My best guess to start the season for the secondary is Adams - Grymes - N. King - Jackson - Colquhoun with Hunter or Maston or Wright as a PR / Backup. If the Esks draft Godfrey Onyeka then that means the Esks are committed to a national CB, but if they don't I wouldn't be surprised to see Wright take over at the field CB at some point. I also suspect that N King's injuries last year are a concern for the Esks and Jordan Hoover could take over at Safety before the year is out.

The Esks could close out 2018 with Adams - Grymes - Hoover - Jackson - Wright with Hunter in reserve.

DPop13…what impact do you think the loss of OC Carson Walch will have on EE?

Carson Walch was running the Jason Maas CFL Style Smash-Mouth Spread Offense. One can see influences of Chip Kelly, Urban Myers and of our Scott Milanovich on the Maas Offense. For example, the no huddle QB read concept is from Kelly, the 5-man in the box defensive read leading to an inside zone read option run is from Myers and inside passing game to SB's that act like TE's from Milanovich.

Of course, Milanovich is Tony Dungy mentored who is of the school of Marty Schottenheimer or Marty Ball. Marty Ball preaches a commitment to the run, but also a commitment to mistake free football from the QB position. In essence, high percentage plays like throwing to curl routes inside and under coverage looking for RAC yards. Maas has mixed the no huddle and allowed Reilly to adjust after pre-snap reads such as the depth of the DB's, how many LB's are inside or outside the box and location of the FS.

Suffice it to say the departure of Walch will not change the offensive philosophy, scheme or game planning with Maas reasserting himself as the O.C. However, what it does do is makes Maas work that much harder and other areas could slip. Keeping in mind that the H.C. duties also have a massive administrative aspect, I would suspect that will be passed off to others.

Mike Gibson is a former O.C. with the Bombers and is currently the Esks O-Line and Run Game Coordinator. Maas will rely even more on Gibson for input who could be the O.C., but I suspect he doesn't want it. That will push the offense towards a more run establishing offense to suck the defense into tightening up before spreading horizontally and vertically. I also suspect more play action and option calls as a result.

As much influence as Gibson will have on the offense, the guy to watch is Jordan Maksymic who is a local coach, I think from St. Albert, who has a similar albeit thinner resume to Walch. Both Maksymic and Walch come from a quality control background (video and analysis), positional coach including QB, RB and receiver coaching. The fact that Maksymic was promoted to the Pass Game Coordinator should mean he will take over signalling duties. If he does he will be in effect the eyes and ears of Maas while the offense is on the field and if does well, he will be the next O.C. for the Esks.

The promotion of Maksymic would likely happen next season and the pass game coordinator duties should go to DJ McCarty. Kelly Bates, former SFU Heach Coach, would then potentially move to positional coaching job potentially. However, I also believe that the door would be opened for Ricky Ray to return to Edmonton as the QB Coach.

Having typed all of that I believe the change of player personnel will have a bigger impact on how the offense is run than Walch moving on to Philly. The 2018 Esks Offense will focus early on Duke Williams, C.J. Gable and Nate Behar as teams double Derel Walker. As the opposition stacks the box and doubles Williams; Walker, Criner/Stafford and Hazelton/Mitchell will come alive and be the focus.

I only have two minor concerns with this offense for 2018:

  • Reps for Eli Jenkins to get him pro ready as quickly as possible in case the Esks need him, because Glenn has disaster written all over him at 38-years-old.

  • What do the Esks do at RT? I like Jacob Ruby, but is he ready? Kelvin Palmer has pro starter experience, but his play was up and down in B.C.?