On eve of training camp, Edmonton Eskimos know building team chemistry will be key

Edmonton Eskimos players report for the medicals on Saturday, May 18 at the Commonwealth Stadium fieldhouse. 630 CHED/Morley Scott

The Edmonton Eskimos underwent a massive makeover in the off-season.

Gone are Mike Reilly, Derel Walker, J.C. Sherritt, Aaron Grymes, Duke Williams and Bryant Mitchell, to name a few.

As training camp is set to open Sunday from the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos have a roster turnover rate of nearly 60 percent and could have seven new starters on offence and seven on defence.

READ MORE: Edmonton Eskimos set to begin a season of change as CFL camps open this weekend

Building chemistry will be paramount when camp opens and head coach Jason Maas sees his current circumstance as a positive one.

“I never think of anything as bad,” Maas said Saturday. “Everything is positive, everything is good. We’re prepared for everything, so at the end of the day, it’s a mindset we’re going to take going in, saying being part of a team is more important than any individual here.

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“Our guys are going to understand that from Day 1 — not to say selling to them but what we’re providing for them and making them understand [is] the importance of our culture.”

LISTEN BELOW: Eskimos head coach Jason Maas talks about the process of building team chemistry with so many new faces

The most notable change is on the offence, with quarterback Mike Reilly moving to the B.C. Lions. Trevor Harris signed a two-year contract with the Eskimos on the opening day of CFL free-agency on Feb. 12.

Harris is coming off his first 5,000 yard passing season in 2018, helping the Ottawa Redblacks reach the Grey Cup game in Edmonton last November. He said the process of gelling as a team is important but something you can’t manufacture.

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READ MORE: Edmonton Eskimos introduce new quarterback Trevor Harris

“It’s got to be authentic and we just want to make sure that we’re caring about each other,” Harris said.

“As simple as that is, it’s a very complex deal as well. If we’re caring about each other and doing the right things each and every day, working hard, finding out how can I help you, and finding out how I can help each other, I think that continuity grows but it all starts with us caring about each other.”

LISTEN BELOW: Eskimos quarterback Trevor Harris says talent alone won’t help to build chemistry with a new group

Harris is the new leader on offence and middle linebacker Larry Dean is the new leader on defence replacing J.C. Sherritt who retired in the off-season.

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Dean was the Eastern Division’s nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award, finishing the season with 105 defensive tackles and two interceptions. Dean said on the eve of training camp, the question of how quickly team chemistry can be built can’t be answered yet.

“The jury’s still out on that,” Dean said. “We still haven’t had our first meeting yet so you know we have to get acclimated with the guys, their personalities, what makes them tick, and what pushes and motivates everybody and just get our nucleus together.”

While there are a lot of new faces, there are some familiar ones who will put the onus on themselves to show the new players what the “Eskimo Way” means.

Defensive tackle Almondo Sewell is entering his ninth season with the green and gold.

“If you ask different people, they will tell you all different things about the Eskimos Way but for me, the Eskimo Way is we’re expected to win championships every year,” Sewell said.

“We’re pretty good but we were not good enough last year to make it to the playoffs, so this year we have to turn it around.”

On a roster note, the Eskimos have released veteran national linebacker Adam Konar who spent the last five seasons with the team after being drafted in the third round of the 2015 CFL Draft.

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Konar’s best season came in 2017, starting 12 games at weak-side linebacker recording 59 defensive tackles, two interceptions and one quarterback sack.

The Eskimos will hold their first training camp session on the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday at 9:20 a.m.

The team will host the B.C. Lions in their first pre-season game on May 26.

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