Elks look back on a season which fell way short of expectations

Edmonton Elks general manager Brock Sunderland addresses the media on the 2021 CFL season on Nov. 22, 2021. Dave Campbell/630 CHED

The Edmonton Elks endured one of their worst seasons in recent memory. On Sunday members of the team spoke about what went wrong in a 3-11 season which saw the Elks finish in last place in the overall standings.

Training camp began on July 10. This camp was different because all CFL teams were restricted from having any pre-season games.

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The Elks were loaded with a talented roster especially on offence with the likes of Trevor Harris, James Wilder Junior, Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson. Issues along the offensive line with retirements and injuries to veteran players along with instability at quarterback led to a rough campaign.

Fact remains, the Elks were sitting with a 2-2 record after four games which followed a two-week shutdown because of a COVID-19 outbreak that affected 13 players.

The Elks finally beat the Calgary Stampeders on Labour Day, what followed was an unimaginable losing streak of eight games. During the streak, starting quarterback Trevor Harris was traded to the Montreal Alouettes, leaving Taylor Cornelius as the starter with newly acquired pivot Nick Arbuckle biding his time for 2022.

Cornelius finished the season with a 1-7 record — the Elks would only win one of their final 10 games and for the first time in their history failed to win any of their seven home games.

Fan unrest is high with poor game attendance and many questioning the decisions and those in charge of the football team.

Elks general manager and vice-president of football operations Brock Sunderland says the fan frustration is justified and winning will cure much of the issues.

“I get where the fans can come from, I’m a fan of other organizations outside of football and when you care about something as deeply as Edmonton fans and this organization’s fan base does, it’s fair because they care,” Sunderland said.

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“Back to the question of does winning help, of course it does. That’s the number one thing we’re trying to do.”

Head coach Jamie Elizondo was hired back on February 1, a week after Scott Milanovich who was hired to coach the team in December of 2019 left for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. General manager Brock Sunderland says the timing of the move forced Elizondo to retain a coaching staff he didn’t pick and to become reactive to situations other than planning for them.

Elizondo says that factored into the play on the field somewhat as the team struggled to win close games throughout the season.

“At some point before you can become a winning team, you have to learn how to win the close ones and we didn’t do that,” Elizondo said.

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“Football is all about turning every advantage you can in a game to give yourself the opportunity to win and we are still learning how to that.”

The defense was the Elks best phase in 2021; however, it had some veterans not able to play at their usual level.

Special teams other than the Elks nominee for the CFL Most Outstanding Special Teams Player and Most Oustanding Canadian, Sean Whyte struggled all season. James Wilder Junior enjoyed a solid offensive season with 770 yards rushing and was named the team’s Most Outstanding Player.

Receivers Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson fell short of their usual levels of performance, even Trevor Harris struggled before being traded.

Offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell says the calibre of the roster fell way short of pre-season expectations.

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“Ultimately, we had a lot of guys underperform and that was our biggest issue this year.”

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