May 16, 2018 11:31 am
Updated: May 16, 2018 12:04 pm

Edmonton Eskimos are reloading at receiver

Mike Reilly is the CFL's most outstanding player.

Kevin Smith, Global News

The names will be different for the Edmonton Eskimos receiving corp in 2018, but the man at the helm of the offence says the expectations will be just as high if not higher in 2018.

Mike Reilly starts his sixth season as the Eskimos starting quarterback in 2018 and he wants to exceed all the gaudy numbers produced last year on offence.

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“I expect us to be better in every facet of our football team,” said the reigning CFL MOP just a few days before training camp is set to open.

“In terms of the wide receiving position, I do believe we are a better group than we were a year ago. Our guys are healthy, our guys have an additional year of experience, the young guys that were good at making plays just on talent alone now have a year under their belt understanding the system understanding the league and what’s expected.”

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There will be lots of references to staying healthy when it comes to the Eskimos of 2018. After setting all sorts of records for injuries last year, a healthier group of receivers could set other records.

Brandon Zylstra was the Eskimos only 1,000-yard receiver (1,687), but three others averaged more than enough yardage per game for a 1,000-yard season if they had played all 18 games.

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Derel Walker, Vidal Hazelton and Bryant Mitchell all had a grand pace last year but didn’t or couldn’t play enough games to get to the 1,000 yard mark. Duke Williams’ yardage fell just short, on pace for 990 yards in the 13 games he played.

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Even with Zylstra gone to the NFL and Adarius Bowman gone to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers the potential is there. Now they have to deliver and Kenny Stafford, who had 265 yards in five games, is expecting big things from this group of receivers.

“Sky’s the limit,” said the 28-year-old who had 732 yards and nine touchdowns in his last full season in 2105 with the Eskimos.

“It’s the next man up, it’s always been the next man up since I have been here. When A.D. goes down Derel Walker steps in in 2015 and he picks up the slack; it’s just been a constant rotation of good receivers. Me, Vidal, B-Mitch, D-Walk you got Natey (Adjei), you got (Nate) Behar and a couple of other guys signed in free agency that can play.

“Oh man sky’s the limit.”

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The offence will have a different game plan as well, said Reilly, who expects to deliver more passes to more players this year.

“I think that we are going to be a little bit more well rounded, we have C.J. (Gable) for the entire season, John White once he gets healthy is going be great for us at the running back position but in terms of the pass game I expect the ball to be spread around a lot more equally than it has in years past.”

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With Bowman, who led the league in receiving two years ago, and Zyklstra, who led the league last year, gone – Reilly sees that as a positive for the rest of the receivers.

“Adarius has been known to receive most of those catches and with him gone it gives an opportunity for all five or six guys on the field to know that the ball could be going anywhere.”

One of those five or six should be Bryant Mitchell. He played only seven games last year for the Eskimos but caught 32 passes for 482 yards – that’s a 1,239-yard pace and he knows that losing good friends and teammates will open the door for him.

“I will miss those guys, great mentors and Brandon is also one of my best friends. It hurts to see them leave but at the same time it makes me lick my chops – now I have the opportunity to do what I do.”

Mitchell is excited to catch more balls, and Reilly is ready to throw to him more.

“I’m excited for him and about him,” said Reilly “He’s been in our system for quite a long time and has been patiently waiting. He has seen what Derel Walker did, he has seen what Brandon Zylstra did and he knew they had to sit back and wait and use that time to get prepared and ready to go and he has done the same thing. He has a tonne of ability and will have a great opportunity and I know he is gonna be ready for it.”

It’s been a really good run for the Eskimos at the receiver spot over the last 10 years, with Fred Stamps, Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker and Brandon Zylstra.

Who is next?

The answers will start to come this weekend when the Eskimos open training camp.

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