Eskimos head coach Maas: 'I don't think our locker-room was nearly as close last year'
A virtual free-for-all of names — some completely unwarranted — have been brought up over this week when it comes to exactly whom Edmonton Eskimos kicker Sean Whyte may have been referring to when he dropped a bomb, saying: “The cancer that was in the dressing room is gone.”
Whyte, who’s been a highly respected occupant of said space since helping the Eskimos win a Grey Cup in 2015, didn’t get any more specific when it came to a 46-man Eskimos active roster from last year that has since turned over 27 new names, leading to endless speculation in social-media circles.
But on Wednesday, head coach Jason Maas waded into the conversation with TSN 1260’s Jason Gregor.
“I’ll just say this, the players are in the locker-room so they can witness whatever they witness,” said the fourth-year Eskimos head coach. “I just know this, you always say this about chemistry, you say this about the Eskimo Way, you notice it when it’s done right, you notice when you have chemistry on your team.
“And you also notice more than anything when you don’t have it. And I don’t think our locker-room was nearly as close last year at any point as it is right now, so that should tell you something. I think that’s more what Whytey was talking about more than just an individual here or there.”
The Eskimos went 6-3 in the first half of 2018, following up with a 1-5 stretch on the way to a 9-9 finish to finish last in the West Division and miss the playoffs.
“I’ll tell you this, it may have been a guy here one week and another guy the next week,” Maas said. “It never stayed and it was always someone had an issue with something, it seemed like. Something wasn’t quite right.
“We really talked a lot this off-season about how do we get our team closer? How do we get them to think about one goal, one purpose, one direction, one force moving forward, always thinking about each other, playing for one another? And I just think this year, it’s already been started and it’s better than it’s been since I’ve been here, to be quite honest with you.”
Throughout training camp, how a player fit in was evaluated as their physical attributes.
“We’ve put a lot into that in two weeks, with a whole bunch of new guys, so obviously we’re harping on it, we’re expecting it out of them,” Maas said. “But I think it’s because we’ve brought a lot of really good guys into camp and those are the guys that we selected based on that, and how they played, to ultimately make up our roster.
“So I think that’s what you’re seeing, a team that gets it, that knows team chemistry is a real, viable thing. The Eskimo Way is a real viable thing and it’s more noticed when it’s not there than when it is, but I’m noticing right now because it is there.”
The Eskimos led TSN’s list of top-50 players heading into the 2019 season, as selected by media, tying for the lead with the B.C. Lions with eight players apiece.
Quarterback Trevor Harris was tops on the team, coming in at 11th ahead of middle linebacker Larry Dean at 16, receiver Greg Ellingson at 19, tackle SirVincent Rogers at 22, defensive tackle Almondo Sewell at 30, running back C.J. Gable at 35, coverage linebacker Don Unamba at 36 and cornerback Anthony Orange at 47.
Not that Maas puts any stock in what the pundits have to say, either in the top-50 list or the CFL poll also released Tuesday.
“Nope, not one bit,” he said. “All 18 games are going to get played on our schedule and then we’re going to have a big say in how it finishes.
“But I don’t really care about any of that, I just care about the first week and the process we’re going through as a team. That’s our sole focus right now.”
The 2019 NBA playoffs will come to an end Thursday.
If Tevaun Smith has anything to say about it, at least.
The Edmonton Eskimos receiver and top draft pick from 2016 is calling a win by his hometown Toronto Raptors over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the finals.
“When I was young, I definitely went to a lot of games. My cousins and my parents brought me to a lot of games and now, it’s good to see them make it this far,” Smith said following Wednesday’s practice, before giving a sidelong glance: “I always thought they’d make it this far, right?
“I definitely kept an eye on every draft, every year, so it was definitely a good experience seeing it. I think they’ve got it tomorrow.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge