For an organization that has proclaimed it is rebuilding, the Eskimos do a convincing imitation of a franchise bent on self-destruction.
The fact the 3-10 team’s centrepiece — swashbuckling, first-year starting quarterback Mike Reilly — was diagnosed with a concussion Sunday after absorbing a needless and dangerous helmet-to-helmet hit from Toronto’s Cleyon Laing on Saturday night is the most disturbing personification of that dynamic.
Sadly, it’s hardly a one-off. The fact Reilly was permitted to continue playing after taking that dirty hit is just another clumsy, ill-conceived decision in a year fraught with them.
The clumsiness began in pre-season with that secret training camp in Florida, carried into training camp, when general manager Ed Hervey challenged the offensive line, setting a dubious season-long tone, and continued throughout the regular season, which has been informed by some inept clock management, questionable play calls and much else.
This Reilly incident is the most serious case, so far.
To be fair to Reilly, who is a tough, talented, brave athlete, his concussion was a result of Laing being the third man in and drilling the defenceless quarterback, rather than a case of Reilly running headlong into an opponent.
The handling, or mishandling, of the situation by head coach Kavis Reed raises serious questions, some of which may be answered today when he and Reilly meet the media.
No doubt, Reilly will once again be asked about modifying his kamikaze style of play. He had better or he is Buck Pierce redux.
Actually, it’s more than a bit stunning to listen to Reilly talk about the nobility of taking the shots, game after game, just weeks after the NFL was ordered to pay a $765 million settlement to 4,000 former players over damage done to them, including early onset dementia, owing to head trauma suffered during their careers.
There are equally serious questions for the CFL on this. If, as expected and warranted, Laing is fined or, better, suspended, that will make three opponents who have been at least fined for illegal and dangerous hits to Reilly’s head. Three in one season.
It’s not implausible Reilly has suffered more than one concussion this season, especially given the fact he is loathe to report his own injuries, let alone take himself out of a game.
On Saturday night, the Laing hit was severe enough to prompt receiver Nate Coehoorn to signal for the training staff to come out to attend to the quarterback. When the medics arrived, Reilly promptly declared himself fine, although his body language sent a more troubling message. He took one more snap and threw a touchdown pass to Shamawd Chambers. What a trooper.
But the days of players getting their “bell rung” and playing on heroically are straight out of the 1950s. Or should be, given what has been learned about the short- and long-term effects of head trauma.
Something else. When one quarterback on one team has absorbed three hits from three different players on three other teams, hits severe enough to warrant fines, the CFL is not doing nearly enough to change behaviour, to mitigate the ‘seek-and-destroy’ mentality of defensive players.
Reilly is an emerging star, but he has been a target of frightful physical punishment all season long. In the Labour Day home-and-home series against Calgary alone, Reilly was sacked 14 times, seven in each game. He was hit many more times than that.
As much as any other factor, it was watching Reilly take yet another physical battering on Labour Day that ignited Hervey’s eruption at a hastily called news conference the day after. Speaking of self-destructive behaviour.
That was the day Hervey gave Canadian offensive guard Simeon Rottier a public flogging, ripped the play-calling by his offensive co-ordinator, bemoaned the timidity of the defence, basically put everyone “on notice.”
“There have to be consequences,” Reed had fulminated after an early-season loss. He was referring to indiscipline by the players. But often there can be unintended consequences for indiscipline by management, also.
You want to cut Hervey some slack. He’s an astute football man, passionate about Edmonton and the Eskimos and he’s a rookie GM. He’s going to learn from his mistakes, the main one being letting his passion overrule cool, managerial reason.
His excoriation of Rottier violated a clause in the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, prompting a visit from the CFLPA and some stern words from the CFL head office.
Putting the coaching staff on notice helped erode their always fragile job security, you’d have to think. And publicly questioning this coaching staff probably isn’t the best way to advertise for their replacements.
Hervey maintained a stony silence during the club’s eight-game losing streak, breaking it spectacularly only after Labour Day. He spoke up again after the club won a pair of games against 2-11 Winnipeg, but only to a couple of friendly reporters.
When the community-owned pro football team you manage is sitting at 3-10, giving the media — and by extension, the paying public — the silent treatment is not an acceptable option.
Which brings us to the sold-out Capital Power Canadian Football Hall of Fame Gala Dinner on Thursday night at the Shaw Conference Centre.
This annual get-together of Edmonton business people, supporters and the like is a fundraiser for the Hall of Fame and the Eskimos’ own Champions in the Community program. This is not a meeting of shareholders, nor of the club’s board of directors.
But the Eskimos franchise arrives at this ‘do’ dead last in the West Division, its playoff hopes threadbare at best, its star quarterback concussed and the future of the coaching staff uncertain.
Good times. But there needs to be a massive self-examination and cleanup job after the party, one that starts right at the top.
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Edmonton Eskimos QB #13 Mike Reilly lays on the field after a crushing hit against the Toronto Argonauts during CFL action at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, September 28, 2013. Backup QB Kerry Joesph took over the duties.
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal