Richie Hall was preaching patience when the Edmonton Eskimos opened training camp just a few weeks ago.
Thursday, Hall will find out if patience, and the pieces he’s since put together in his first season as a CFL head coach, will pay off when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers come calling at Commonwealth Stadium.
“The focus changes,” Hall said. “We’re always evaluating ourselves, but now we have an opponent.
“During camp, it wasn’t about opponents. It was about slowly coming together as a team. Now, we want to keep the momentum going.”
Hall, a long-time defensive co-ordinator with Saskatchewan before taking the coaching clipboard from Danny Maciocia this off-season, has a revamped offence, featuring running back Jesse Lumsden and some new receivers.
Hall has an overhauled defence, a unit that includes former Saskatchewan stalwarts Maurice Lloyd and Kitwana Jones.
And, with his team looking to build on a 10-8 campaign in 2008, Hall has expectations of the 46-man roster he’s assembled in the wake of pre-season wins against his former team, Saskatchewan, and the B,C. Lions.
“We’re not going to be the team we want to be in Week 1,” Hall said. “We want to be the team we’re going to be in November. We have to be patient because it’s a growth process.”
Ricky Ray, who now owns just about every passing record in Edmonton’s record book, returns at pivot. Jason Maas will be his back-up. Despite the loss of receivers Jason Tucker (retirement) and Kelly Campbell, Ray still has targets like Fred Stamps and Kamau Peterson. Now, add Lumsden.
On the other side of the ball, there’s no question the defence has added some speed and aggression with Lloyd at middle linebacker, Jones and rookie defensive end Greg Peach.
“We’ve got some very talented players,” Hall said. “It’s about finding your mesh point. Finding that role. The quicker we can come together, the easier it is to go forward.”