EDMONTON - Simeon Rottier spent the CFL off-season working relentlessly on improving his football skills, determined to prove that 2013 is a season best forgotten.
The six-foot-six, 295-pound guard became the focal point of much that was wrong with last year's Edmonton Eskimos when general manager Ed Hervey publicly chastised him after a Labour Day loss to Calgary, saying it wouldn't bother him if Rottier "didn't play another down this year."
The native of Westlock, Alta., was back in the lineup a week later after the CFL Players Association complained Hervey was offside with his comments. When the Eskimos play their second and final pre-season game in Regina Friday, Rottier will again be the starting left guard.
"This off-season I worked as hard as I could to come in ready and put last year behind me," Rottier said after the team's walk-through Thursday. "I was just happy to come back here and start a fresh year. That's the bottom line and thank God for a second chance."
Every returning Eskimo is getting another chance this season after the team turned over its entire coaching staff. Former Toronto defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones was hired as head coach and he brought in eight new assistants and handed the responsibility for shoring up the much-maligned offensive line to Johathan Himebauch.
Although the coaches and returning players would rather forget last year, Himebauch, a veteran CFL coach has become acutely aware that won't be easy.
"I know there's been a lot more attention. This is the most interviews I've done in my career," he said with a smile. "I've been here two weeks and done so many interviews my wife keeps laughing and saying, 'What are you doing out there?'"
As training camp winds down, Himebauch says he hasn't detected any "residual feelings from last year.
"When Chris came in he told all the coaches, don't bring up last year, don't bring up the past of where this team has been because it's not important."
Rottier said there's a different feeling around the offensive line, which has five newcomers on the depth chart. There's no obvious worrying about pressure or thinking about last season.
"Last year there was a little too much stressing out about the pressure. We were worried about making mistakes, now we're just going to cut it loose."
It's a huge offensive line. Guard Andrew Jones, a first-year Eskimo, is the shortest at six-foot-three and third-year guard Matt O'Donnell the tallest at six-foot-11. Rottier is the only one listed less than 300 pounds.
"When I talk to them at practice I make them take a knee because my knee hurts from staring up at these guys," said Himebauch. "They are big human being and when they understand that they can be very powerful, that they can remove people, that they can create a great pocket for the quarterback, when they gain that confidence they can do special things."