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With playoffs out of reach, Elks in no rush to start new quarterback Arbuckle

EDMONTON — The Nick Arbuckle era in Edmonton will begin soon — just not this week.

EDMONTON — The Nick Arbuckle era in Edmonton will begin soon — just not this week.

Elks coach Jaime Elizondo confirmed that the quarterback, acquired from the Toronto Argonauts before last week’s trade deadline, will be holding the clipboard this Friday when Edmonton hosts Saskatchewan.

Taylor Cornelius will keep the starting job when the Elks (2-7) host the Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-4). 

Arbuckle, with 3,405 career passing yards over 43 games for Calgary and Toronto, was signed to an extension through the 2022 season after he was acquired by the Elks, but Elizondo doesn’t want to rush the quarterback into his role with his new team.

“He’s done a great job trying to learn the system,” said Elizondo. “It’s hard on any player to come in mid-year and put all that stuff together, but it’s much, much harder on a quarterback. The one thing we’re cautious about doing is throwing him in before he’s ready. It’s unfair to him, it’s unfair to the organization.”

So Cornelius will be the one to try and lead the Elks to an upset triumph — and prevent the team from finishing its home schedule without a win. Another blow is that James Wilder Jr., third in the league with 714 rushing yards, will be out with an ankle problem. 

“We feel confident with whoever steps on the field,” said Cornelius. “We have all the confidence in the world with every player on this team.”

Saskatchewan, which clinched a playoff spot last week, comes in on a modest two-game winning streak. 

The Riders have surrendered only 31 points over the course of the streak, covering up for a sputtering offence that hasn’t put up more than 20 points in each of their last four games. 

Meanwhile, in six home losses this season, the Elks have only broken the 20-point barrier twice: a 37-22 loss to Winnipeg on Sept. 18, and last week’s 39-23 drubbing at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 

Betting people might be taking the under on this game.

“They’re a really athletic group across the board,” Elizondo said of the Riders’ defence. “They do a great job getting off blocks. The linebackers are long and active. The DBs on the back end have a lot of experience; they’ve got great length and great closing speed. Their athleticism is one of the things we are going to have to counter.”

Riders defensive back Ed Gainey, who is tied with Nick Marshall for the team lead with three interceptions, said "when the offence is not going too well, we have to step up and play with a chip on our shoulders."

Gainey said that he’s often told quarterback Cody Fajardo not to put too much pressure on himself if the Riders aren’t moving the ball on offence.

“I make it a point to go to him and say 'It’s all good, the defence has got you.’” 

The Riders’ failed to generate more than 300 yards of offence in either of their two previous wins. In last weekend’s 19-14 win at Montreal, the team in green managed just 243 yards of offence — and just one touchdown, a rush from William Powell.

While the Elks are not mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, the team would need a series of near-impossibilities to occur in order to make the post-season. For all intents and purposes, their mindset is on next season, and that’s why there’s no point in rushing Arbuckle along.

Fajardo said that the Elks may be a tougher opponent because they have been essentially eliminated from the playoff race.

“It’s a lot different when you have guys who are playing for their jobs, rather than a playoff position… I don’t think they are going to roll over by any means," he said.


Friday, Commonwealth Stadium

BIG LOSS FOR RIDERS: Fajardo said the Riders will sorely miss his favourite target this season. Wide receiver Kyran Moore, who leads the team with 64 catches, hurt his knee in last week’s win over Montreal and will not play in Edmonton. “He’s been Mr. Consistency for us,” said Fajardo.

DOUBTS ABOUT DUKE: Duke Williams’s return to Commonwealth Stadium is a maybe. The Riders have said the slotback’s status for Friday is a game-time decision. Williams played 31 games for Edmonton before going to the NFL. He’s made six catches over two games with the Riders.

TRIPLE THREAT: After wrapping up the home schedule, the Elks will play three games in three different time zones between Nov. 13 and 19. They’ll go to Saskatchewan, then Toronto, then finish at the B.C. Lions. A postponement earlier in the year because of a COVID outbreak with the Elks, plus the fact the league juggled the schedule to free up Commonwealth Stadium for the men’s national soccer team, led to the congested final week. The men’s national team plays World Cup qualifiers Nov. 12 and 16.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press