Eskimos bolster roster in preparation for playoff run
It was almost like free agency day all over again for the Edmonton Eskimos.
The team that won the off-season free-agent free-for-all back in February by signing big name after big name, including a trio of Ottawa Redblacks offensive stars in quarterback Trevor Harris, receiver Greg Ellingson and left tackle SirVincent Rogers, opened the post-season by bolstering their roster with some more familiar faces.
Defensive tackle Jake Ceresna, wide receiver Jamill Smith and running back TraVon Van have all returned to the team as practice roster additions Tuesday, along with 2016 first overall draft pick Josiah St. John, fellow offensive lineman D.J. Sackey and defensive back Keon Lyn.
“Part of it is, we have room on the practice roster and the other part of it is we have some injuries,” said Eskimos general manager Brock Sunderland. “So they’re depth moves, we had the room, they’re players we think can help us if need be. Our goal and our hope is to play for three more weeks, so we did this thinking long-term.
“And a lot of these guys, you’ll notice, are familiar with what we do scheme-wise and all those things, so that was the reason behind it.”
Ceresna, a six-foot-five, 295-pound interior D-lineman out of Cortland State, started for the Eskimos last year before spending the National Football League pre-season with the New York Giants.
“I’ve been in touch with Jake ever since he was released from New York and even during his time there,” Sunderland said. “A lot of times just reaching out as a friend and saying, ‘Hey, man. How’s it going? I hope you’re doing well.’
“I know Dave Gettleman, the GM there, pretty well. I said, ‘Tell Dave I said hello.’ So I think there’s a good relationship, he wanted to come back and we had room on the PR. So it fit well.”
Ceresna was one of three Eskimos who earned NFL opportunities over the off-season, along with Buffalo Bills receiver Duke Williams and defensive back Mercy Maston, now with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“I say it all the time, if a player gets an opportunity in the NFL and they can better themselves financially and personally, then we’re their biggest fans,” Sunderland said. “We’ll buy a jersey, we’ll root for them. And, before they leave, we always say the door’s always open to return if you want, and I think a lot of those guys feel that way.”
St. John, a six-foot-five, 305-pound offensive tackle out of Oklahoma, was the top pick three drafts ago by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and was most recently on the practice roster of the B.C. Lions after being cut by the Toronto Argonauts at the end of training camp.
Van, who was with the Eskimos in 2017, and Smith, who spent the previous two years in Edmonton, both have experience in the return game, which has been a hole for the squad since a season-ending knee injury to Christion Jones two weeks ago.
“That’s exactly why we did it,” Sunderland said. “If Tyquwan (Glass) is not going to be the guy, and that’s yet to be determined, we wanted to bring people in that have done it before in games and that we have confidence in can go back and understand the Canadian rules, first and foremost, and then to have done it under live bullets and we have faith in.
“And TraVon can be a running back and Jamill can be a receiver, so they’re depth moves. They can play a position and they give us the extra bonus of being a returner as well.”
And the other new practice squad members will act as insurance at other positions over the playoff run.
“We have a couple needs right now, in case, with depth and that’s the reason they were all brought in,” said head coach Jason Maas. “So we get a chance to look at them this week and if we need to activate anybody, we’re able to. The good thing is bringing in someone like TraVon or Jamill, who have been in our systems before, they have a seamless transition.
“The other guys will take some work. Jake, as well, it’s a different system for him to learn, but it’s great just having him out here practising against him. And D.J. and Josiah have played in the league, so it’s just having more experience on your roster at this time of year doesn’t hurt.”
In and out: Thousand-yard rusher C.J. Gable was back practising Monday after sitting out the final three games of the regular season with a knee injury.
‘Jason Maas is our head coach’
News that Ottawa Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell would not be returning to the nation’s capital next season was quickly followed by speculation the prodigal son could end up returning to the House that Hugh Campbell built here in Edmonton.
On Tuesday, as the Edmonton Eskimos took to the indoor fieldhouse at Commonwealth Stadium to open the week of preparation for Sunday’s East Division semifinal in Montreal, general manager Brock Sunderland addressed the rumours.
“I don’t know what the connection would be with Rick and Edmonton,” said a coy Sunderland, who had worked with Rick Campbell for three seasons in Ottawa, beginning with the expansion year in 2014. “No, Jason Maas is our head coach. He and I spoke, we’re 100 per cent on the same page and our focus is 1,000 per cent on Montreal.
“Jason’s our head coach, I’ve got confidence in him and our plan and our goal is to be playing for three more weeks and hopefully to be in Calgary at the end of the month.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge