It's the start of a long, long stretch for Matt Nichols and the Edmonton Eskimos.
Nichols will make his first start of the season Thursday night when the Eskimos host the Ottawa Redblacks. With incumbent Mike Reilly (knee) out 10-to-12 weeks, Nichols has the opportunity to be the Eskimos' starter for a while. And after being off last week, the Eskimos (0-1) will play the next 17 straight weeks before earning a bye the final week of the regular season.
Fortunately for Edmonton, Nichols isn't a typical backup. The 28-year-old is in his sixth season with the CFL club and has seen spot duty as a starter.
Reilly was injured in Edmonton's 26-11 season-opening loss to the Toronto Argonauts after sustaining a low hit from defensive lineman Cleyon Laing. The Eskimos didn't help themselves in that contest, committing six turnovers — including three fumbles.
Ottawa (2-0) has already matched last year's win total and looked good defensively doing so, allowing just 245.5 yards and 16 points per game. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 46.7 per cent of their passes also.
GM Marcel Desjardins spent much of his off-season shoring up an offence that was the CFL's worst last year, bolstering a receiving corps with newcomers Brad Sinopoli, Maurice Price, Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams. Ottawa leads the league in ball possession (almost 36 minutes per game) but stands fifth in scoring (23.5 points).
Henry Burris, 40, in his 16th CFL season, has completed over 70 per cent of his passes and stands fourth among league quarterbacks with 569 passing yards. His four TD strikes are second only to Toronto's Trevor Harris (seven) but has also thrown four interceptions, the most among starters.
Harris was very proficient against Edmonton's defence, completing 24-of-27 passes for 347 yards and three TDs. The Argos also ran for 137 yards.
Edmonton coach Chris Jones has a well-earned reputation as a defensive guru and he's had two weeks to formulate a gameplan for Ottawa. The same would apply for the Eskimos as a whole getting over the loss of their offensive leader and accepting Nichols as their new starter.
Pick — Edmonton.
Montreal Alouettes versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Friday night.
Drew Willy starts for Winnipeg (1-1) after being knocked from last weekend's 52-26 loss to Hamilton, the result of a helmet-to-helmet hit. The Bombers struggled without Willy as backup Brian Brohm had two picks returned for TDs. Rookie Rakeem Cato was impressive in his CFL debut, completing 20-of-25 passes for 241 yards and three TDs in Montreal's 29-11 win over the Grey Cup-champion Calgary Stampeders. Winnipeg does have recent gamefilm on Cato and should be eager to atone for its last game.
Pick — Winnipeg.
Saskatchewan Roughriders versus B.C. Lions, Friday night.
It's been a tough start for the Riders (0-2), who've lost starter Darian Durant (Achilles) for the season and their first two games by just six points. Kevin Glenn threw for 477 yards and two TDs in last weekend's 42-40 overtime loss to Toronto while Ryan Smith had eight catches for 174 yards and a TD. Jerome Messam ran for 84 yards and caught six passes for 72 yards. B.C's Travis Lulay threw for 254 yards and a TD in last weekend's 27-16 loss to Ottawa but the Lions' defence allowed over 400 yards.
Pick — Saskatchewan.
Toronto Argonauts versus Calgary Stampeders, Saturday night.
Quarterback Trevor Harris has been sensational for Toronto (2-0) with an 83.1 per cent completion average and league-high seven TD passes, three coming in the Argos' 26-11 season-opening home win over Edmonton in Fort McMurray, Alta. But veteran slotback Andre Durie (knee) is likely done for the season. Bo Levi Mitchell, last year's Grey Cup MVP, has just one touchdown toss with three interceptions for Calgary (1-1), which has eight turnovers and a minus-7 giveaway/takeaway, both league-worst figures.
Pick — Toronto.
Last week: 1-3.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press