EDMONTON - Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed has two huge decisions to make before the Eskimos meet the Toronto Argonauts in Sunday's CFL eastern semifinal and both will have big impacts on the team's offence.
As the Eskimos continued their preparation Tuesday the two big questions surrounding the team were who will start at quarterback and what's the status of running back Hugh Charles.
The quarterback position has been a turnstile all season with Kerry Joseph, Steven Jyles and Matt Nichols all failing to establish themselves as the No. 1 man. Charles was the featured running back early but injuries to other backs prompted the Eskimos to bring in Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam.
Charles missed the last two games with a knee injury but on Monday declared himself 100 per cent ready. He practised Tuesday and looked fully recovered and ready to play Sunday.
Who Reed will go with won't be revealed until late in the week. The Edmonton coach said Charles would be evaluated daily before any decision is made.
"The focus will be on Jerome and Cory right now," Reed said. "Cory had a tremendously successful game Friday, ran the ball with a lot of vigour. A lot of things we saw in Cory as reasons why we signed him, we saw Friday night. We feel Cory has earned the right to be part of the conversation as a featured back in our offence this week."
Charles finished fifth in league rushing with 887 yards, an average carry of 5.2 yards. In limited play Boyd averaged 5.5 yards and Messam 4.0.
For his part, Boyd, who was released in early October but re-signed when Charles was injured, is eager to play against his former team but is saying all the right things.
"When I came back I just wanted to help this team in whatever way possible. I played a little special team ... whatever the coaches need me to do I'm here to do it."
Even more important than the running back decision is who will start at quarterback. Reed had declared Joseph his main man with five games left in the season but in the final two games Nichols made a serious case for himself.
He came off the bench in the second half against Montreal to complete nine of 15 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns and was a missed two-point conversion short of rallying Edmonton to a tie. He was rewarded with a start in the regular-season finale against Calgary and after a slow start completed 18 or 30 passes for 341 yards and two TDs in a 30-27 loss on a last-play field goal by the Stampeders.
"The last few weeks have given us the opportunity to really look at both quarterbacks and we have concluded we have two very good quarterbacks," Reed said, referring to Joseph and Nichols. "We have two guys capable of leading this team and we will continue to evaluate that until Thursday or Friday."
The difference may ultimately be experience. Nichols has started two CFL games. Joseph has plenty of playoff experience, has won a Grey Cup and was Grey Cup MVP.
"Matt has shown well during the regular season. He's had two starts, he's done tremendously well in both. He commands the offence exceptionally well, he moves around the pocket very well. Both have similar attributes in terms of their reads of the defence ... both can come off the bench and do well and both can start and do well.
"So it's a very good situation and one that we have to be very careful and deliberate about in order to make the right decision. In our opinion we can't go wrong with either quarterback."
The coaching staff will also consider which of the two would be best coming off the bench if the starter struggles, as has been the case most of the season for the slow-starting Eskimos.
"From the psychological perspective, not just from a numbers perspective, is who's the guy who's going to be better able to mentally handle the start and if, and hopefully this is not the case, who is the better person to be able to come off the bench."
The Eskimos earned the cross-over playoff spot with their 7-11 record that was two wins better than both Hamilton and Winnipeg but they go into Sunday's game on a three-game losing streak while the Argos have won their last two outings.