Elks optimistic for 2nd season under Jones, despite loss of record

The Edmonton Elks have gone two seasons without winning a game at home. They finished the 2022 CFL campaign with a 4-14 record, following a 3-11 record in 2021.

But, as the players left the dressing rooms at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, the prevailing feeling was one of optimism.

Expect. Optimism? Can this be true?

Chris Jones, who led this franchise to a Gray Cup in 2015, was brought back to Edmonton ahead of the 2022 season. As coach and general manager, his job is to right the ship. This was year 1 of the process. And players believe that the second year of the Jones 2.0 era will be the one that pays off.

« It feels like when I was in BC last year, » said linebacker Adam Konar, who spent the 2021 season with the 5-9 Lions, who established themselves as the 2022 contenders.

« I feel like we have a lot of good elements in place. The first year with a new team, it’s tough, everyone gets to know each other and tries to understand each other and stuff like that. It takes time. time for mesh. So I’m feeling super optimistic, especially if we get some healthy guys back next year. »

One bright spot has been lineman Jake Ceresna, who has 10 sacks and four forced fumbles in 12 games this season. Although he hasn’t signed for next season, he said talks with the team have already begun and he believes in what is being built in Edmonton.

« It’s a bit different, I believe in Coach Jones and what he’s building here, and I think we’re going to be very successful next year, » Ceresna said. « It’s just a matter of going out and doing it, and taking action.

« [Jones] is a Gray Cup champion and won here in 2015. He’s done it before. I have a lot of confidence that he can right this ship. For him, I think this year he just came back to Edmonton and got everything he wanted. »

Running back Kevin Brown and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, both midseason American rookies, had eye-opening performances. Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry, and Mitchell established himself as a significant deep threat, amassing 637 receiving yards in just half a season. The idea of ​​these two starting the 2023 season with the Elks is another reason to watch the glass half full.

« At the point of attack, he’s about as good as anybody in the league, » Jones said of Brown. « He has incredible speed. I think his shifting is also one of the best things he does. »

Veteran receiver Derel Walker also wants to return in 2023. And he says a big difference will be knowing the team will likely start the season with Taylor Cornelius as the starting quarterback. The Elks have had three starting quarterbacks this season – Nick Arbuckle, Tre Ford and Cornelius. Cornelius didn’t even dress for the early season games. But, after Arbuckle was traded and Ford suffered a shoulder injury, Cornelius became the obvious choice for the starter job.

Chris Jones previously won a Gray Cup with Edmonton in 2015. He was brought back as coach and general manager ahead of the 2022 season. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press/File)

« It can be tough sometimes, » Walker said of the three-quarter carousel. « When you have three quarterbacks, that’s a lot when it comes to building chemistry and things like that. As you could see, the offense worked differently with each quarterback, with the call play, or if they’re recording, or the reads. It’s just different. You have to get a feel for the guy and take the time to understand the mindset.

Cornelius, who signed a two-year contract extension last month, said 2023 would be very different knowing he had a vote of confidence from the team’s front office.

« The last time I had to do this was my senior year of college, going into a season knowing I was going to be the guy, and just having a sense of confidence knowing who’s going to be here and knowing that the general manager is behind me and the coaches are behind me, » Cornelius said. « It gives me something to lean on, some security. »

Jones said he’s confident he can bring back most of the core players he wants back in 2023. But, when it comes to player recruiting, he said the job of a CFL front office is more difficult than ever. With the re-emergences of the USFL and the XFL, there are two other professional leagues outside of the NFL that will attract American talent. That means scouts have to work harder, go to NCAA Division II schools, NAIA programs, to try and find that uncut gem that can be turned into a CFL player.

« There will not be a stone that [left] no way back, » Jones said. « We’re going to turn over a lot of rocks, we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure the roster we’ve built, the team we’ve built next year, is in a position to do something very different from what we achieved this year.

« We need to have good free agency, although I don’t think we’ll be as active as we were a year ago. We need to have a great draft, and we’ve already started to run in the United States side of things. , go see people. »

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