EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Eskimos cleaned out their lockers Monday, bitterly disappointed over their loss in the East Division semifinal a day earlier.
Despite a tumultuous season that ended on an ugly note, there was still optimism that the franchise will be turned around.
"It was a season where a lot of things went on, up and down, a roller coaster, but one we can learn from," said defensive back Joe Burnett. "We saw a lot of young guys play, grow and work and they will contribute next year and years to come."
The Eskimos' season ended Sunday much like the team's entire year, in confusion, second-guessing and defeat. Their 42-26 loss to the Toronto Argonauts didn't feel out of place after finishing 7-11 during the regular season.
"I've always judged myself, did you walk away a winner or did you walk away a loser, and we walked away as losers this year," said linebacker J.C. Sherritt, the West nominee for most outstanding defensive player, who didn't play against the Argos because of an ankle injury.
Defensive lineman Almondo Sewell said the Toronto game was like a microcosm of the team's season.
"Yeah, pretty much," he said. "Just a lot of bad breaks happened in that game ... we killed ourselves with mental mistakes."
The team heads into the off-season facing more questions than answers.
The first question that has to be answered is who will be named general manager to replace Eric Tillman, who was fired a week before the playoff game. Names mentioned include head coach Kavis Reed and former player and current head scout Ed Hervey.
Key among the new GM's early priorities will be trying to re-sign the 13 free agents, including nine defensive starters, and trying to figure who will be the team's quarterback of the future. Tillman's trade of Ricky Ray to Toronto proved to be a monstrous mistake that left the Eskimos without a competent starting pivot.
Kerry Joseph, at 39, said he plans to return next year but he can't likely be counted on to be a full-time starter. Steven Jyles, the man obtained in the Ray trade, hasn't shown in six years with four teams the ability to be a starter. And Matt Nichols, the obvious choice to be the starting quarterback, broke his ankle in Toronto.
On crutches, Nichols said he will see his doctor Tuesday to schedule surgery to insert a pin that will come out in February.
"It's probably the best case scenario really, for what happened," he said. "I plan on being ready for training camp."
-- The Canadian Press