Quarterback questions dog Edmonton Elks heading into off-season

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EDMONTON — Let the debate begin on who will be the Edmonton Elks starting quarterback in 2022 after a nightmarish 3-11 season.

Will it be Taylor Cornelius, the rookie who took over as the No. 1 after Trevor Harris was traded to Montreal?

Will it be Nick Arbuckle, the three-year vet who came to the Elks from Toronto just before the CFL trade deadline, but did not take a single snap for his new team as they played out the string?

Is the door open for Dakota Prukop, who completed 18 of 26 pass attempts in eight appearances in 2021?

Is there another option on the horizon?

The job of starting quarterback is "wide open" heading into next season with no one player owning the inside track, said Elks general manger and football operations vice-president Brock Sunderland on Sunday.

Sunderland defended the team's decision not to play Arbuckle.

It was too much to ask Arbuckle to lead a team with little or no practice time after the quarterback moved to Edmonton, and giving Arbuckle that practice time would cut into Cornelius’s reps, the GM said.

“History shows us that when you throw a quarterback into the fire, it does not go well,” said Sunderland.

After losing two at home to open this season, the Elks picked up a pair of road wins that included a Labour Day Classic victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

The Elks then went on an eight-game skid to end their playoff chances.

Edmonton went 0-7 at Commonwealth Stadium making the 2021 edition the first in franchise history to go winless at home.

"In a typical season, the name of the game is consistency in the CFL," Elks offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell said.

"You can get a bad game, you can’t let it snowball, or the snowball can turn into an avalanche. That’s what seemed to hit us in that eight-game streak."

The Elks scored 246 points in 14 games for an average of 17.5 points per game, which was second-lowest output in the league.

The bright light on offence was running back James Wilder Jr., who finished third in the CFL in rushing yards with 770.

He also compiled 226 receiving yards to be just four shy of 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Wilder is headed for free agency. Will he be back?

“I’m interested if it makes sense,” Wilder said. “I told Brock this is the place I want to be.”

Harris was dealt to the Montreal Alouettes after playing in just six games for the Elks.

Instability at quarterback got a lot of attention, but Sunderland and coach Jaime Elizondo also pointed to the need to play 11 different starting offensive lines this season because of injuries and retirements.

“These are the little things that I think, outside, aren’t recognized — like the cascade of changes on the continuity of an offence,” said Sunderland.

Elizondo's hiring in February was late in terms of prepping for a season. He didn’t have the chance to bring in his own staff.

The coach will have more time to prepare for 2022.

“To just get a chance over the next couple of months to lay some of our foundation down, some of our core beliefs and really implement them, as opposed to just throwing them on a sheet of paper and talking about it briefly, there’s a big, big difference,” said Elizondo.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Edmonton tied with the Ottawa Redblacks, also 3-11, for the worst CFL records this season.

Elks' results were met with more apathy than anger in Alberta's capital city.

According to attendance figures published by the league, the Elks averaged 26,210 fans per game for their lowest attendance since the team moved into Commonwealth Stadium in 1978.

The Elks announced attendance of 24,115 at their home finale against Saskatchewan, but that figure seemed ambitious and the majority appeared to cheer for the Roughriders.

The 2021 season was supposed to be a new beginning for the team, starting with a name change to the Elks.

Edmonton joined pro sports teams like the NFL's Washington Football Team and MLB’s Cleveland Guardians in shedding names viewed as insensitive to Indigenous people.

Elizondo, Sunderland and the Elks players who spoke Sunday agreed that brining a winning culture back to Edmonton will fill seats again.

They didn’t see deeper issues keeping the fans away.

“I know some people are pissed off with the COVID rules,” said O’Donnell.

“Some people are pissed off with the name change. But, if you win, they will come.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2021.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press

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