There's been a lot of attrition for the Edmonton Eskimos this offseason following their 103rd Grey Cup victory, from head coach Chris Jones and most of the coaching staff leaving for Saskatchewan to the departure of numerous key players in free agency to some surprising retirements (including draft pick Doug Corby at age 22), but the loss they suffered Monday might be the hardest to take yet. Import cornerb-ack John Ojo, who led the team with five interceptions last year, ruptured an Achilles tendon in practice and will miss the entire season.
The 26-year-old Florida A&M product was named a league all-star last season despite it being his first year in the CFL, and he was already a crucial part of Edmonton's dominant defence; there were thoughts he could take his play even higher in his sophomore season. Now, he's gone for the year, further weakening a defensive secondary that already had substantial losses and creating an issue that might trouble the Eskimos all season long. Coaching and free agency losses will hurt too, but Edmonton appears to have found good replacements for many of those departures. Replacing Ojo only weeks before the season may be much tougher.
It won't be easy at all to fill Ojo's shoes, given both his production (his five interceptions not only led the team, but tied him for fifth in the league) and his mix of size (6'3'', 205 pounds) and speed. Losing him would be problematic even if the rest of the secondary was unchanged. However, going without him gets even worse when you consider that the Eskimos had already lost numerous key players in the secondary, with Aaron Grymes heading to the NFL, Otha Foster leaving for Saskatchewan and Canadian Ryan Hinds exiting for Ottawa. Remaining veterans Patrick Watkins and Cauchy Muamba also suffered injuries earlier in camp and were still struggling with those Monday, so 28-year old Marcell Young might be the only Eskimos' DB from last year who's ready to go when the season rolls around. The team does have some promising guys on the roster, including former B.C. Lions' defensive halfback Cord Parks, but there already were going to be issues getting a new-look secondary to gel under different coaches. Those are likely to be exacerbated further with Ojo's injury.
At least this injury came before the first of two CFL-wide cutdown days Tuesday, as that should allow Edmonton to keep extra defensive backs around. They also do have some promising young guys in camp, with 23-year-old Arizona alum Solomon Means seeing time at Ojo's spot in Saturday's preseason game against Calgary and 25-year-old Alcorn State product C.J. Morgan and 24-year-old Clemson grad Garry Peters playing at the other cornerback slot. However, while Morgan is big (6'3'', 210 pounds), Peters (5'11'', 190 pounds) and Means (6'1'', 181 pounds) are much smaller. Using one of them instead of Ojo might force also the Eskimos to make some changes to their defensive schemes. It's not going to be easy to replace Ojo regardless of who steps into that spot, though; his level of instant top-quality production's rarely seen in the CFL. Unless one of the young guys they have turns into a top DB or they're able to acquire one somewhere else, this could be an injury that haunts Edmonton all year.