Eskimos kicker Sean Whyte: 'The cancer that was in the dressing room is gone'
For the Edmonton Eskimos, it was as much about getting their roster down to the quantity required ahead of this week’s season-opener, as the quality.
While last year’s squad was to be commended for leading the Canadian Football League in passing, there was also a real and definite problem that also existed, which led to the Eskimos missing the playoffs for the first time in five years
The issue was enough to negate the positive effects of having the league’s top passing-yards leader in Mike Reilly, now with the B.C. Lions, and receiving-yards leader in Duke Williams, now with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills, as well as C.J. Gable becoming Edmonton’s first 1,000-yard rusher in seven seasons.
And it all had to do with cohesiveness in the locker-room, according to one veteran member of the team.
“Yeah, I think the cancer that was in the locker-room is gone,” said Eskimos kicker Sean Whyte, who is entering his 13th CFL season after joining the Eskimos mid-way through 2015. “I think Brock (Sunderland, general manager) has done an unbelievable job doing that and he knows no jerks are going to be on this team. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t fit in with this crew, you’re not going to be here.
“You can be the best player in the world and come here and if you’re a jerk and don’t fit in, you’re not going to play well. You’re not going to help the team, you’re just going to hurt us in the long-run.”
While Whyte didn’t get any more specific in identifying the root of the issue, he’s certain it’s been weeded out over an off-season overhaul to a roster with changes to more than one-third of its starters.
“Everyone’s just super-positive, everyone is coming together really well. I think the coaches have put more emphasis on being a team,” said Whyte. “Last year, I thought we were good for half the season and then you had a case of people just thinking they were too good to be … they thought they were better than the team and bigger than the team.
“Everyone’s got to realize they’re a small piece to a big puzzle and I think this team gets is, everyone knows their roles and that’s what makes a championship team. And I think we’re growing together, now we’ve just got to get a couple wins and get into a nice little rhythm.”
And they will look to get the ball rolling Friday (7 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED) against a Montreal Alouettes franchise that has been dancing to the tune of a downward spiral on the way to being purchased by the league and firing its head coach just a week ahead of opening kickoff.
“That team, you can’t take Montreal like we’re going to walk all over them,” said Whyte, who spent 4 1/2 seasons with the Alouettes before coming to Edmonton as a free agent on the way to winning his first Grey Cup that year. “We want to get on them quick and put our feet to their throats and not give them a chance.
“Anybody that shows up in this league, it doesn’t matter what team it is, they can win that day. The most disciplined team usually wins, so we’ve got to be disciplined, do our jobs, nothing more, nothing less.”
Beyond focusing on discipline, an Eskimos team coming off a division-worst 1,481 penalty yards will look to take their initial steps into 2019 with some healthy growth, as opposed to the tumorous kind.
“I love that and that’s the way I was taught back in the day with Montreal, that’s what he believed in,” Whyte said of players being chosen for more than simply physical ability. “That’s why the team was so successful.”
But it also begs the question, what has happened with the Alouettes in the ensuing six seasons since Trestman left compared to what will show up here Friday?
“I can’t answer that,” Whyte shrugged. “I think more people upstairs are running the team than anything.
“So I don’t want to touch that one.”
A familiar face will be on the Eskimos sideline during Friday’s season-opener against the visiting Montreal Alouettes.
Former Eskimos coverage linebacker Kenny Ladler spent two seasons in the CFL, racking up 156 tackles in 34 games on the way to being named a league all-star in 2017. He used it to springboard into an opportunity with the NFL’s Washington Redskins last year before winding up with his current team, the New York Giants.
With the numbers falling from 94 at the end of training camp to 70 as the first day of regular-season preparation got underway Monday, a handful of players took the opportunity to claim one of the two dozen freed-up numbers: FB Peter Cender went from 71 to 46, DB Tyquwan Glass from 71 to 19, DE Darius Jackson from 59 to 99, DB Josh Johnson from 78 to 26, DE Jesse Joseph from 51 to 92, WR Shai Ross from 74 to 83, and DT Kendal Vickers from 50 to 97.
In and out: OLB Jovan Santos-Knox started opening week of the regular season not practising Monday … Back in action was WR DaVaris Daniels, who got on the field for the first time since playing in the pre-season game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was joined by DB Jordan Beaulieu, RB Martese Jackson, and DE Jesse Joseph.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge