Elks optimistic about 2nd season under Jones, despite losing record

The Edmonton Elks have gone two seasons without winning a home game. They finished the 2022 CFL campaign with a 4-14 record. But, as players cleared out of the locker room at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, the overriding feeling was one of optimism.

Club will do what it can to build successful roster, says coach and GM Chris Jones

The Edmonton Elks have lost a record 17 straight games at home in Commonwealth Stadium. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Edmonton Elks have gone two seasons without winning a home game. They finished the 2022 CFL campaign with a 4-14 record, on the heels of a 3-11 record in 2021.

But, as the players cleared out of the locker room at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, the overriding feeling was one of optimism.

Wait. Optimism? Can that be right?

Chris Jones, who led this franchise to a Grey Cup in 2015, was brought back to Edmonton before the 2022 season. As coach and general manager, his job is to right the ship. This was Year 1 of the process. And the players believe the second year of the Jones 2.0 era will be the one that pays off.

"This has a similar feeling to when I was in B.C last year," said linebacker Adam Konar, who spent the 2021 season with the 5-9 Lions, who have established themselves as contenders in 2022.

"I feel like we do have a lot of good pieces in place. The first year with a new team, it's tough, everyone's just getting to know each other and trying to figure out each other and everything like that. It takes a while to mesh. So, I feel super optimistic, especially if we get some guys healthy next year."

One of the bright spots was the play of lineman Jake Ceresna, who recorded 10 sacks and four forced fumbles in 12 games this season. While he's not signed for next season, he said the talks with the team have already begun, and he believes in what is being built in Edmonton.

"It's a little different, I believe in coach Jones and what he's building here, and I think we are going to be very successful next year," said Ceresna. "It's just a matter of going out and doing it, and taking action.

"[Jones] is a Grey Cup champion and he won here in 2015. He's done it before. I have a lot of confidence that he can turn this ship around. For him, I think this year was him just getting back in Edmonton and getting everything the way that he wants it."

Running back Kevin Brown and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, both American mid-season signings, had eye-opening performances. Brown averaged a whopping 6.6 yards per rush, and Mitchell established himself as a significant deep threat, racking up 637 receiving yards in just half a season. The thought of those two beginning the 2023 season with the Elks is another reason to look at the glass as half full.

"At the point of attack, he's about as good as anyone in the league," Jones said of Brown. "He's got tremendous speed. I think his change of speed is one of the better things he does, as well."

Veteran receiver Derel Walker also wants to return in 2023. And he says a big difference will be knowing that the team will likely start the season with Taylor Cornelius as the starting quarterback. The Elks had three quarterbacks start games this season — Nick Arbuckle, Tre Ford and Cornelius. Cornelius didn't even dress for games early this season. But, after Arbuckle was traded and Ford hurt his shoulder, Cornelius became the clear pick for the starter's job.

Chris Jones previously won a Grey Cup with Edmonton in 2015. He was brought back as coach and general manager before the 2022 season. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press/File)

"It can be challenging at times," Walker said of the three-quarterback carousel. "When you have three quarterbacks, it is a lot when it comes down to building chemistry and things like that. As you guys could see, the offence operated differently with each quarterback, with the play-calling, or whether they check in, or the reads. It's just different. You have to get a feel for the guy, and put in time to understand the mindset."

Cornelius, who signed a two-year contract extension last month, said 2023 will be a lot different, knowing he has a vote of confidence from the team's front office.

"The last time I've got to do that was my senior year of college, going into a season knowing I was going to be the guy, and just having a sense of confidence knowing who is going to be here and knowing the GM is behind me and the coaches are behind me," said Cornelius. "It gives me something to lean on, some security."

Jones said he's confident that he can bring back most of the core players he wants to see return in 2023. But, when it comes to recruiting players, he said the job for a CFL front office is harder than it's ever been. With the re-emergences of the USFL and XFL, there are two other pro leagues outside the NFL that will attract American talent. That means scouts need to work harder, go to NCAA Division-II schools, NAIA programs, to try and find that uncut gem that can be polished into a CFL player.

"There's not going to be a stone that's [left] unturned," said Jones. "We're going to turn over a lot of rocks, we're going to work as hard as possible to make sure the roster we put together, the squad that we put together next year, is in a position to do something a lot different than what we achieved this year.

"We've got to have a good free agency, though I don't think we'll be as active as were a year ago. We have to have a great draft, and we've already hit the ground running on the U.S. side of things, going to see some people."