ESKS, RIDERS FACE FINAL LITMUS TEST AS JONES RETURNS
It may only be exhibition play but the off-season’s biggest story is about to have another small but note-worthy chapter entered what has been an intriguing tale involving Chris Jones, the Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jones will make his return to Edmonton for the first time since winning a Grey Cup and then taking a job in Saskatchewan shortly thereafter.
The South Pittsburgh, Tennessee native brings his Riders squad to Edmonton for a 4pm ET start against the Esks as the two teams prepare for the kickoff of the regular season next week.
The return is significant to fans and media but if it holds any for Jones himself, he sure isn’t leading on as such.
“I have thought more about what we need to do as a football team than more so than coming back (to Edmonton),” he told reporters Friday afternoon. “It was a good two-year ride here but like anything else, I have a job to do and that is where my focus is.”
Jones’ departure was well-documented both in his decision to head to a division rival and do so with the Grey Cup victory less than a week old. That said, despite the fact he brought Edmonton its first championship in a decade, he isn’t betting on a overly-positive reception from the Commonwealth faithful.
“I am sure it will be typical for when you leave somewhere; it won’t be the friendliest of welcomes I am sure,” he continued with a grin.
Less worried about a reception, Jones is trying to sift through a roster that has one more chance to show its potential; one with significant changes and new faces.
“We had a rebuild in Toronto and a rebuild in Calgary where there were guys where we had a lot of guys that had never worked together so it is not uncharted territory,” Jones explained. “Its been a good training camp,very fast and very competitive. Especially defensively there are a lot of new faces so we have a lot of work to do.”
On the other sideline is Jason Maas who is trying to fill Jones’ shoes while keeping his team focused on preperation and the start of the games that count in the standings.
Getting out of Saturday’s contest healthy is one priority but so too is ensuring that game plans are executed and focus it at a premium.
“This game is all about getting ready for Ottawa,” Maas said bluntly. “It is a tune up for us and we have to be hitting on all cylinders when we get out there. I don’t want anyone thinking about anything except the play they are in.”
Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly was used sparingly last week in a 23-13 pre-season win over the Calgary Stampeders and says, for everyone on the team, this is the last opportunity to sharpen up before they need to start defending their championship crown.
“It’s another dry run before the regular season starts but any reps we can have against an opponent live is a great opportunity,” Reilly said.
Edmonton will indeed turn their focus to Ottawa immediately following Saturday’s contest but the Riders have a Week 1 bye giving them an opportunity to build some much-needed chemistry on a roster that has been overhauled.
Kickoff is at 4pm ET Saturday and can be followed live on CFL.ca via CFL Game Tracker.