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Rebuilding Eskies need major offensive upgrade

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If the Edmonton Eskimos' tumultuous 2012 season was to be represented by one particular image, it might have come on Grey Cup Sunday late last November.

There was Ricky Ray -- all-star quarterback, future hall of famer -- posing with the ol' mug as a champion for the third time in his career.

And he was wearing Toronto Argonauts' colours.

Yes, in a year filled with intrigue and drama and pock-marked by the firing of GM Eric Tillman just days before a playoff game, the sight of Ray -- sent to the Argos in the off-season for Steven Jyles, Grant Shaw and a draft pick in a stunningly lopsided deal -- leading the Double Blue to a title was the ultimate insult for Eskimo faithful.

Not only did Ray help guide the Argos to a championship, he threw for 4,059 yards and 20 TDs in just 14 games. And Jyles? He was dumped in the off-season after essentially losing his job to veteran Kerry Joseph, who is so old rumour has it his first jersey featured Roman numerals.

Despite all this and the occasional circus-like atmosphere in Edmonton, the Eskimos did squeak into the playoffs as a crossover team -- thanks mostly to the ineptitude of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats -- as head coach Kavis Reed somehow managed to keep his squad from imploding.

" 'Without struggle there is no progress' as Frederick Douglass (the legendary social reformer and abolitionist) smartly said," said Reed in a conference call on Tuesday. "There are always going to be issues in a football season. I think our leadership group here did an absolutely wonderful job last year of managing the environment and allowing us to attain a level of success.

"There was some turbulence. I always say to the players, 'Airplanes are built to withstand turbulence; they won't go down because of turbulence. But you will figure out the rigidity of those wings during that time.' Our football team, our franchise, our entire organization showed a lot of character from the turbulence we faced and it's only going to make us a lot stronger in 2013."

He'd better hope so. If nothing else, the Eskimos will look substantially different in '13 as Reed and new GM Ed Hervey began a significant overhaul this winter -- highlighted by the arrival of new QB Mike Reilly, the former B.C. Lion, who will battle with Matt Nichols for the starting chores.

"First of all, I want to make it quite clear there is no leading candidate in Edmonton," said Hervey. "I can't stress that enough. Both guys, both he and Matt Nichols, know coming in that the best guy is going to play.

"We like the fact that (Reilly) comes from an environment of winning... but he also knows and understands that nothing is going to be given to him. He has a great chance of helping in the process of getting our franchise back to the level that we've come to expect here in Edmonton." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

The CFL is conducting a series of teleconference previews on the league's teams. This is the third in that series. Tomorrow: Toronto Argonauts

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2013 D4

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