What will Matt Nichols’ torn ACL mean for the Eskimos’ quarterbacking situation?

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It's been a tough year for Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Matt Nichols, who the team announced Tuesday will be out for the season thanks to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is just the latest hard-luck blow for Nichols, who broke his ankle in the playoffs last season, rehabbed it and competed so well in camp that the team said he was in a battle for the starting job with high-profile offseason addition Mike Reilly. Things all went wrong for him in Friday's preseason game, where he hurt his knee trying to bring down Saskatchewan's Carlos Thomas following an interception. That was later confirmed as a torn ACL Tuesday, and that's quite a serious injury. As remarked upon when Bombers' DB Kris Robertson tore his ankle in May, it's definitely possible to recover from a torn ACL, but it generally takes at least a calendar year. Thus, the Eskimos' quarterbacking situation could change dramatically as a result of this injury, as Nichols likely won't suit up for them again this season.

With Nichols down, Reilly becomes the most likely starter, and that's not necessarily a bad thing for the Eskimos. Reilly came into camp with a more impressive CFL resume (albeit a briefer one) than Nichols, and he arguably turned in the better performance in Friday's game, completing four of nine passes for 102 yards and a touchdown with one interception (as compared to Nichols' five-of-seven showing for 88 yards with two interceptions). If Nichols had remained healthy, Reilly might still have been tabbed as the starter for the Eskimos' season-opener. This just means the decision on the team's starter will likely be made before Edmonton's final preseason game against B.C. Friday, and it means it's a much easier decision to anticipate.

It's the backup situation that really gets interesting now, though. The Eskimos still have Kerry Joseph, and he certainly has plenty of experience from his 10 seasons as a CFL quarterback. That could make him seem like a desirable option to have in a pinch. However, Joseph is 39, and he hasn't exactly been too effective in recent years: while he led Edmonton with 2,187 passing yards last year, he mostly played thanks only to Steven Jyles' struggles, and he was replaced by Nichols down the stretch. His 60.2 per cent completion percentage and 12 touchdowns against 10 interceptions were nothing to write home about, and while he might be an effective spot starter or mid-game replacement if Reilly gets hurt, he isn't the most confidence-inspiring option in the world.

Joseph isn't the only other quarterback on the Eskimos' roster, though. They also have former Tennessee Volunteers passer Jonathan Crompton and former Miami Hurricanes pivot Jacory Harris, and both flashed some impressive potential during that preseason game. However, both are CFL rookies and are still adjusting to the 12-man game and the bigger field, so while they may be worth keeping around and developing, that doesn't necessarily make them great options at the number-two slot. This becomes especially important when you consider that Reilly's CFL success so far is impressive, but has come in just a few starts; if his play falls off a cliff all of a sudden, the Eskimos might need other options, and Nichols was their most compelling one.

Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed and general manager Ed Hervey now have to decide whether they think Joseph can still be an effective backup, whether they think Crompton or Harris can step up to the #2 job or whether they need to go after another quarterback. None of those calls will be particularly easy to make, but they should make for an interesting week in Edmonton. While the starting job appears to have been settled in the wake of Nichols' injury, there are still plenty of questions about the Eskimos' quarterbacking situation, and it will be an area to keep an eye on going forward.

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