EDMONTON, AB – The Edmonton Elks could be cooking up something special on the offensive side of the ball.
General Manager and Head Coach Chris Jones has been busy before Feb. 13’s CFL free agent deadline, whipping up a flurry of moves since the calendar turned to 2024, with a focus on lighting up scoreboards.
Last season, the offence fell short of expectations early in the season, before showing signs of the unit the Elks coaching staff had been hoping for. At first glance, the EE’s 367 total points scored (20.4 points per game), which was the lowest in the Canadian Football League, illustrates the frustration felt in Green and Gold. But look beyond those numbers, and the 2023 season was not all doom and gloom for the Elks offence, especially in the back half of the season. It was the Week 9 anointment of Jarious Jackson as the team’s offensive coordinator that helped kick start the offensive overhaul for Jones’s team. In 10 games under Jackson, the Elks offence averaged 26.2 PPG – a mark that would have ranked fourth in the league over the full season – and was held to under 20 points in only a single contest.
A deeper dive into the Elks offence sheds light on a unit that was more impressive than what featured on the scoreboard. Edmonton finished the 2023 season with the CFL’s third-best rushing attack, spearheaded by Kevin Brown’s 1,141 yards on the ground, which were second only to the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian Brady Oliveira. The rushing attack was as efficient as it was punishing, grinding opponents to a league-high 6.1 yards per carry.
— CFL (@CFL) September 9, 2023
ADDING A WINNER UNDER CENTRE
The Elks offence was actually above average when it came to finding the endzone in 2023, scoring the fourth most offensive touchdowns in the CFL with 37 – six more than the eventual Grey Cup champion Alouettes. In spite of an underwhelming total output in terms of points, there was an established foundation for the GM Jones to build on entering the offseason.
The most glaring area of improvement for the Elks came in the passing attack. The trio of Taylor Cornelius, Tre Ford, and Jarret Doege combined for the second-fewest passing yards in the league with 3,980 (221.1 per game) with the fewest attempts in the CFL.
Enter quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
The two-time Grey Cup Champion was the Elks first big piece of business, signing a one-year deal with the club on January 7. Bethel-Thompson joins Edmonton with an established relationship with Jackson, having played under the Elks OC when he was orchestrating the Argonauts offence during the 2021 season.
Bethel-Thompson also comes with a selection of intangibles that make him a perfect fit for the organization. The pivot has an established reputation as a well-regarded leader among league circles and his on-field resume speaks for itself. The 35-year-old has led both the CFL and the USFL in passing yards over the last two seasons, including 4,731 yards at the helm of the Boatmen in 2022.
EXISTING TARGETS BOLSTERED BY TRADE
Chris Jones’s next move was to secure right tackle Brett Boyko, locking in the Canadian for the 2024 season. The Elks offensive line showed marked improvements after the 31-year-old joined the Green and Gold in July, and Boyko is expected to be a fixture in Bethel-Thompson’s pass protection for the upcoming season.
The weapon’s kept piling up with the Elks extending Kyran Moore on January 12. The man affectionally known as ‘Swerve’ is coming off one of the best years of his pro career, leading the Elks in receptions with 69 and finishing second on the team in touchdowns with four. The 5-foot-10 speedster added an important element to the Elks offence with his ability to operate in space to the tune of a league best 490 yards after catch.
Edmonton’s offensive overhaul was bolstered again, this time via trade with Toronto, adding star Canadian wide receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.. The 26-year-old receiver is an ideal fit for the Elks roster, having been coached by Jackson and an already established chemistry with Bethel-Thompson. Factor in the ever-looming big play threat of the sensational Geno Lewis, who finished third in the CFL in 30-plus yard receptions with 10 in only 12 games, and the Elks passing offence should have no trouble improving on last season’s output.
— CFL (@CFL) January 16, 2024
The ingredients have been gathered. Now it’s up to Jackson and Bethel-Thompson to get the Elks offence to really cook. Even modest gains in the Elks passing attack, paired with the already established ground game could mean plenty of fireworks in front of the Commonwealth Stadium faithful.
Here’s looking forward to an offensive revival for the Elks this season.