There’ll be a surprise visitor this season at the Edmonton Eskimos‘ special-teams and defensive meetings.
Sophomore head coach Jason Maas expects to sit in on the sessions in 2017 after promoting Carson Walch to offensive co-ordinator and relinquishing play-calling duties to him. Maas served both as head coach and offensive co-ordinator last season while also calling Edmonton’s offensive plays.
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Maas said he’s comfortable offloading some of his responsibilities to Walch so he can take a more complete role in running the team.
“I’m one of those coaches that, when I feel like a guy is ready to become a co-ordinator and call plays I’m never going to stand in that guy’s way,” Maas said during a CFL conference call. “(Walch) is very deserving of the opportunity.
“But the fact he’s a teacher, a communicator, he’s disciplined and organized are all things that bode well for him and will ultimately make him successful.”
After winning the ’15 Grey Cup, Edmonton (10-8) finished fourth in the West Division last year to secure a cross-over playoff berth. After downing Hamilton 24-21 in the East semifinal, the Eskimos lost 35-23 to Ottawa in the division final and Grey Cup rematch.
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Still, Edmonton’s offence led the CFL in net yards (418.7 per game), finished tied with Calgary for most TDs (53) and was second in scoring (30.5 points), rushing, (103.7 yards) and passing (329.0 yards). Quarterback Mike Reilly threw for a league-high 5,554 yards while Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker were 1-2 in receiving with 1,761 and 1,589 yards, respectively.
Walker is now with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers but both Reilly and Bowman remain as lynchpins of Edmonton’s high-octane unit.
“It wasn’t long ago Derel was that practice-roster guy in his first year and then exploded to become an all-star,” Reilly said. “That’s the great thing about this league, you’re never really given a starting role right out of the gate.
“You have to come in, bide your time, put in the work and when you get that opportunity be able to take advantage of it. We have three or four guys, if not more, who we have high expectations to come in and do all those types of things and it’s going to be about them showing up ready for camp and being ready to make an impact for our team.”
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Last year also marked the first time Reilly was involved in formulating a weekly offensive gameplan. He doesn’t expect Edmonton’s offence to skip a beat under Walch, who served as receivers coach last season.
“He’s fiery (but) gets along and fits perfectly with the rest of our coaching staff,” Reilly said. “There’s not any surprises in terms of having Carson be the offensive co-ordinator because we all know him very well and he was very involved as a coach last year.
“Watching Jason and Carson work together . . . it was a great match. Any time you have a change in title or who the offensive co-ordinator is, there’s going to be a little bit of that personality rubbing off but we’re always trying to improve, we’re trying to figure out what we didn’t do well last year and improve upon it so there’ll be those types of changes.”
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Maas will still be involved in formulating the offensive gameplan, but giving Walch more responsibility will allow Maas to be move involved in other facets of his team, something that wasn’t always possible last year.
“As the offensive co-ordinator I was installing our offensive schemes every day,” Maas said. “During special-teams meetings I was meeting with Mike and the other quarterbacks going over our reads and what not so I had very few opportunities to sit in on anybody else’s meeting.
“Now, I’m going to be able to go into a different meeting . . . and have a different kind of focus on the day-to-day operations of our football club. Even when we’re doing walkthroughs now I won’t really have to be as dialled in so I can go over to our defensive walkthrough and watch them go through it.”
Maas called his rookie season as a head coach a “grind.”
“Getting used to that day-to-day grind mentally was the most challenging thing,” he said. “I’ve always said, ‘How do you know if you’re prepared to do anything if you’ve never done it before,’ and that’s kind of the head-coaching thing.
“A lot of thinking goes into every aspect of your football team and I have sleepless nights just thinking about the most mundane things because you’re responsible for a lot of people and for things being successful. I feel like I’m going to be more prepared for that this year.”