Numbers adding up on new-look Eskimos roster
Nothing is sacred, it seems, when it comes to dolling out jersey numbers in Edmonton Eskimos training camp this year.
The team that actually ran out of numbers during an injury-riddled 2017 season – when they became the first club in league history whose injury payroll hit the million-dollar mark – hasn’t been at all fussy about recycling some pretty recognizable digits.
While Ricky Ray’s No. 15 had been given a grace period, the same isn’t true for the Eskimos’ most recent franchise quarterback, as Mike Reilly’s old No. 13 is being worn by new receiver Ricky Collins Jr., who was picked up from the B.C. Lions in free agency over the off-season.
Retired middle linebacker and defensive captain J.C. Sherritt had his No. 47 given to defensive back Jalen Spencer.
And the No. 81 worn by Duke Williams, on his way to joining the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills after leading the CFL in receiving yards last season, now belongs to Tyler Batson.
“I definitely know who wore this number,” Batson, a Barbados-born six-foot-two, 205-pound product of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), said before the question could even be finished. “Duke, he was a dog. When I found out I had the opportunity to play for the Eskimos, I definitely keyed in and looked at all the receivers from Duke Williams to the D-Walks (Derel Walker) and stuff like that, just kind of trying to pick their game.
“And B-Mitch (Bryant Mitchell), he kind of helped me out a little bit as far as giving me tips coming into the league and I definitely appreciate that. But I know who wore this number, I know who represented it and it’s an honour.”
But the one number that stands out most in camp hasn’t previously belonged to anybody. In fact, it could be argued it’s not even a number at all, as coverage linebacker Don Unamba is the first Eskimos player to practise in No. 0.
Though, it must be noted Reilly donned the No. 0 for one game, when the club paid tribute to Eskimos legend Larry Highbaugh, who had also worn No. 13.
Unamba was picked up from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats along with neighbouring linebacker Larry Dean in free agency.
Just don’t expect to see Warren Moon’s retired No. 1 pulled down and dusted off anytime soon.
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While training camp onlookers might be catching themselves accidentally putting old faces to some of the numbers running around Commonwealth Stadium this week, the coaching staff doesn’t need any sort of refresher.
“Nope, that’s a part of our jobs, is learning that and knowing that,” said head coach Jason Maas. “We all got rosters, we all have guys in the room every day, we’ve done a ton of stuff in those team meeting rooms to get guys in different groups so we get to know each other better and faster.
“The new numbers, the new faces? It’s all good.”
Any former Ottawa Redblacks acquisitions may have had to do a double take to make sure they were in the right place for spring training camp.
After all, the last time they saw Commonwealth Stadium, the field was quite literally frozen over during November’s Grey Cup final.
“Man, it’s pretty cool. It’s different. Just to see all the numbers across the side and the history of this franchise, it’s pretty cool,” left tackle SirVincent Rogers said of the Eskimos Wall of Honour, which was taken down temporarily by the league for its Grey Cup broadcast. “It just sets the expectation every day, like winning is the goal here. There is no other goal.”
William Fields is the lone name on the list of Eskimos guest coaches at training camp this spring.
Fields was set to join Eskimos new defensive co-ordinator Phillip Lolley in Edmonton after the pair were together with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, where Lolley co-ordinated the defence and Fields coached defensive backs.
Fields, whose short-lived title with the Eskimos was defensive assistant, is set to join former CFL head coach Marc Trestman’s staff on Tampa Bay’s XFL franchise.
In and out: LB Jovan Santox-Knox CB Anthony Orange, who have yet to participate in an on-field session of training camp, have been placed on the Eskimos injured veterans list, while LB Don Unamba also sat out of Monday’s practice … The Eskimos released and American DT Mic’hael Brooks (East Carolina), American WR Miles Shuler (Northwestern) and six-foot-one, 275-pound University of Alberta product Lucky Daniels … On Monday, the Eskimos announced they are bringing back KR/PR Martese Jackson, who became a free agent in February.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge