A year ago, the Eskimos running back spot was to be a two-horse race between Arkee Whitlock and Daniel Porter. As the season progressed, one man did step up to plate and took the reins of the run game.
No, it wasn’t Whitlock or Porter who were both eventually released. Instead it was Jerome Messam who became just the third Canadian running back in CFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards. Messam hurt his knee in the West Semi-Final, ending his season. After undergoing surgery and successful rehab, Messam signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL in the off-season.
The departure of Ricky Ray was a big blow to Eskimos fans. Losing Jerome Messam just added salt to the wound. Messam’s contract was signed under the old CFL collective bargaining agreement meaning Messam could explore NFL aspirations thanks to the CFL option window. Messam was considered by many to be the Eskimos Most Outstading Player.
Replacing a 6’3, 245 pound running back that combines a great display of power, finesse, and speed is a very formidable task.
The answer is simply to change the equation. The 2012 Eskimos don’t have the luxury at the moment of a power back so they’ll use what they have. Imports Hugh Charles, Cory Ross, and John Goebel along with veteran Calvin McCarty are all competing for the number one job in the offensive backfield. They will likely have a running back that can make the opposition defenders miss.
The man leading the charge so far is second-year Eskimo and five-year CFL pro Hugh Charles.
Charles broke into the CFL back in 2008. His career totals are not gaudy by any means. He’s only touched the ball 106 times for 592 yards good for a 5.6 yard average. He also has scored six career touchdowns on the ground and three touchdowns through the air. Charles didn’t play much with the Saskatchewan Roughriders because of the presence of Wes Cates.
Now, Charles finds himself at the top of the Eskimos depth chart. Head coach Kavis Reed says Charles is in the lead so far for the number one spot, largely based on his experience.
He was acquired by the Eskimos last October before the CFL’s Trade Deadline and started for the Esks in the Western Final for Messam.
Reed and his staff are very high on Charles to carry the load in 2012. So much so that they elected to pass on Cates, Joffrey Reynolds, and Avon Cobourne who were all available earlier in the year.
Charles does have some competition. Cory Ross comes in at 5’6 and 240 pounds and is a former member of the Baltimore Ravens playing 10 games in 2006 and 2007 as an undrafted free agent. In 2010, he was named the United Football League’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Ross doesn’t come to training camp with the most CFL experience but he does have the most football experience at 29 years of age. He’s been to enough training camps to know how to handle the rigors and the nuances. Ross’ training camp started slow but now he’s giving the coaching staff something to really think about.
John Goebel is the closest running back to Messam, listed at 6’1, 227pounds. If anything, he should be playing with a hunger and desire. His last participation in a football game was during his senior year at the University of Cincinnati in 2010. Plus, Goebel’s only shot to impress the coaching staff is Friday in Calgary. He’ll miss the final pre-season tilt next Thursday in Edmonton because he’s getting married.
Oh yes, last but not least there’s Calvin McCarty. The forgotten man at times because his role in the offence seems limited for much of the time. If you remember correctly, McCarty did win the running back job out of training camp last season.
Dave Campbell has been on the Eskimos beat since 2004. He’s entering his seventh season as the Eskimo colour analyst for 630 CHED broadcasts. He also hosts The Points After Show, an openline post-game show. Follow Dave on Twitter @Dave_CHED.