MacKinnon: Joseph barely hanging on as Eskimos’ starting QB
Veteran already tabbed for Friday, but he’ll have to play better to finish the game
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos head into the final regular-season game of the CFL season the same way they began it — with a “to be determined,” hanging in the air regarding their quarterback.
Not that there’s any doubt who will start Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium against the Calgary Stampeders. Head coach Kavis Reed correctly said following Edmonton’s 27-25 loss to the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday that Kerry Joseph will be the starter.
Based on Sunday’s effort, that by no means guarantees Joseph will finish what he starts, any more than he did against the Alouettes.
Backup Matt Nichols gave fans a thrill by completing nine of 15 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in his fourth-quarter relief performance at Molson Stadium. But that made the final score deceptively closer than the game was. The Alouettes, remember, had two touchdowns called back.
At any rate, quarterback has been a vortex of uncertainty for the Eskimos franchise since the day last December when general manager Eric Tillman traded nine-year veteran Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts for QB Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a draft pick.
All that’s really changed in the short term is that the issue now for fans is whether Joseph or young Nichols provides the best chance of victory for the Eskimos the rest of this season, as opposed to Joseph or Jyles.
As for the Eskimos’ playoff hopes, it remains in a win-and-you’re-in situation, just as it was against Montreal. But that, too, is to be determined.
They may not have to win to earn that crossover berth to the East Division. If the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lose to the Argos in Toronto on Thursday night, the Eskimos will have clinched a playoff berth the old-fashioned, back-door way.
If the Eskimos beat the Stamps, salvaging one game from their four-game season series with Calgary, the Eskimos will qualify for the post-season with more dignity.
Win or lose, though, the franchise’s quarterback situation remains unclear, short- and long-term.
That reality was intensified by Joseph’s ineffectual performance through three quarters and Nichols’ fourth-quarter heroics on Sunday. Not that he had much support. The Eskimos offensive line was porous during Joseph’s tenure.
Before the season began, the quarterback uncertainty had been underscored by Reed’s “to be determined” when he was asked following the club’s final pre-season game who would start at quarterback in the team’s opener against Ray and the Argonauts.
It was highlighted early in the season when Tillman acknowledged regret about the Ray trade in a radio interview, a gaffe he tried to correct with a clarification the next day.
Most recently, the quarterback picture was further clouded when Tillman released the names of the club’s quarterback prospects on its confidential negotiation list.
That manoeuvre was transparently self-serving and quite possibly moot, as well.
The Eskimos best move for the future at quarterback may be to aggressively pursue and sign Mike Reilly, the B.C. Lions backup who will be the CFL’s most coveted off-season free agent.
Or it may be to go ahead and install Nichols full-time in the job that Ray held in undisputed fashion for nine seasons.
Ray, of course, helped the Argonauts clinch a playoff berth with a solid performance in Toronto’s 31-26 victory over the Roughriders in Saskatchewan on Saturday.
It remains a possibility that Ray will face his old team in that crossover playoff game, quite possibly matched up against Joseph, who would fashion a wonderful story if he were to lead the Eskimos to some post-season success.
But the Eskimos’ quarterback of the future? Oh, that’s to be determined.
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