CFL Pass

Esks' new-look defence keeping it simple

EDMONTON — Sometimes simple is better, a mindset many Edmonton Eskimos are taking to heart this training camp.

The Eskimos’ defence certainly has work to do, installing a new scheme and a number of new starters in time for the season-opener against Montreal on June 14.

Yet for new defensive coordinator Phillip Lolley, simplicity could be the key to a much-improved unit in 2019.

“Just having Coach Lolley here, he simplified it,” said cornerback Arjen Colquhoun. “He made it really simple. People know what to do, and when people know what to do you can do it fast. That’s what we’re seeing on the field now.”

Despite a handful of new starters — not including linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who has yet to take the field — speed is the name of the game for the Eskimos’ defence early in camp.

The goal in any system is for players to react instead of think, something that quarterback Trevor Harris has noticed a lot of in the early going.

“They’re fast,” Harris noted following Tuesday’s session. “They’re fast and they’re going to be physical. We’ve got some pass rushers, we’ve got speed at linebacker . . . I’m not sure I’ve seen a group of DBs this deep that are this good. We’ve got 10, 11 guys that can start in any defensive backfield.

“There’s some high-level competition and those guys are going to raise their level of play because of that. I’m really looking forward to watching our defence create turnovers for us this year and score a few touchdowns for us.”

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On Tuesday the Eskimos focused on picking up and running with loose footballs. The team didn’t force enough turnovers in 2018, tying for fifth in the CFL with 37 takeaways, despite tying for the league lead in sacks.

“We pick up the ball, we run with the ball,” said Colquhoun. “You could be dead tired and you have to run to the ball.

“But really it’s just instilling in us what we need to do,” he added. “It’s muscle memory, you just get used to doing it. That’s his motto. We’ll just get used to doing it and it becomes natural, it becomes a habit.”

The Eskimos’ defence wasn’t all to blame for a disappointing 2018 season, which saw the Grey Cup host miss the playoffs and fall well short of expectations. Mike Reilly and the offence had their own issues down the stretch, contributing to a 2-6 run through September and October that would ultimately seal the team’s fate.

But the group underwhelmed, failing to complement one of the CFL’s top offences and, in the end, ranking sixth in the CFL in both yards (360.4) and points (26.2) allowed per game.

General Manager Brock Sunderland was the biggest spender in free agency this year, signing high-profile stars on both sides of the ball. On defence he brought in cornerback Anthony Orange and linebackers Jovan Santos-Knox, Larry Dean and Don Unamba.

The next few weeks are the most critical time of year for a talented, young group looking to come together in time for the season.

“I think we’re really gelling,” said Colquhoun, who’s projected to start at field corner after missing 13 of 18 games last season. “We have a lot of team chemistry with the guys returning, and I think with the guys coming in, they’re smart.

“Everyone is ready to play, we’re flying to the ball. We’re really just bonding.”

The Eskimos open up pre-season on Sunday when they host the BC Lions at 4 p.m. ET.