It was only a yard, one measly yard, and it turned out to be the longest yard for the Edmonton Elks.
What would have happened and how different would the 2023 CFL season have looked for the Elks if they just managed to find a way to score from the Riders’ one-yard line back on June 11, which was the Elks season- and home-opener?
The team ended its 2023 CFL season on Saturday in Winnipeg with a 45-25 loss to the Blue Bombers.
For the second-straight season, the Elks will finish 4-14 under head coach and general manager Chris Jones, who says he would have “lost his house” if took a bet on the team’s record.
Chris Jones speaks on too many missed opportunities in 2023, what changes in 2024 and Tre Ford
It was a season full of “what ifs” and it’s hard not to look back on the 17-13 loss to the Riders in Week 1.
If the Elks were able to score from the Riders one-yard line late in the fourth quarter and squeak out a tough, close football game and begin the season at 1-0, how much different would the 2023 campaign have looked?
Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, who finished tied for the team-lead in sacks with 12, says the loss in Week 1 set a bad tone for the rest of the season.
“It just comes down to finishing and playing for all four quarters of the game,” Ceresna said. “We were close, it felt at times, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same record. Until we can get over the hump, we’re always going to be that team, so we definitely have to improve and figure out a way to be better.”
Jake Ceresna on what went wrong for the team in another 4-14 season
The Elks found too many ways to lose games in 2023: everything from a stalled drive at the one-yard line, to a returner who didn’t know the rules and conceded a single point instead running the ball out last in the fourth quarter in a tied game, to being shutout twice by the Lions, and blowing double-digit leads three times.
The Elks were not kind to themselves.
On Monday, Jones pointed to his team being the youngest one in the CFL.
He says competing is not the issue; it’s having the right amount of confidence and composure in key moments during a game.
“There’s a small gap between winning and losing,” Jones said. “We’ve had two teams that are going to be in the playoffs down by three scores on this field (Commonwealth Stadium) and failed to win the football game and it came down to making some major mistakes.
“We have got to find a way that when we make that one big mistake, that the second, third and fourth mistake doesn’t happen.”
It wasn’t all bad. The Elks gave a promising young quarterback in Tre Ford a chance to start. This came after the Elks started 0-8 with Taylor Cornelius and then offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo, the offence averaged 12.4 points per game.
With Ford at the helm, along with new play-caller Jarious Jackson, the offensive exploded to the tune of 27.5 points per game in a 4-2 stretch.
The Elks broke a 13-game losing streak dating back to last season and broke a nasty, 22-game home losing streak and in fact won two games in a row at Commonwealth Stadium.
Ford led the Elks back into the playoff race and gave his team — and a long-suffering fan base — some much-needed hope with his ability to run and avoid tacklers, which would also open up passing lanes.
The Elks were able to run the football effectively in their 4-2 stretch to the tune of 224 yards per game, which included running back Kevin Brown’s average of 117 yards per game, paving the way for his first 1,000-yard season.
The team ended the season with four straight losses and witnessed some regression with the Ford and offence, who averaged over 19 points per game.
Ford will come into training camp in 2024 as the number-one quarterback but will compete for the job with Cornelius and Jarret Doege, who started for the Elks in Week 4 in Ottawa.
Ford, despite some bumps, finished with 2,069 yards passing with 12 touchdown passes to six interceptions. Ford added 622 rushing yards and three touchdowns. His completions percentage checks in at 67.4 per cent and a QB rating of 102.8.
That being said, Ford wasn’t the same quarterback in final four games and he says he needs to work on a couple of areas.
“I just have to be better with my feet, that’s definitely a big thing for me personally,” Ford said. “And, to get better timing with my receivers so I’m hitting them in the right windows.
“I’m just going to take with me some of the scrambling I’ve been doing. Taking all of those sacks (21 in final four games), I need to throw the ball away as well.”
Ford on what he learned from being the team’s starter for the last 10 games of the season
Jones will be making the long trek back home to Tennessee next week, which will include many stops to scout players.
Jones says the 2024 roster won’t change very much as he’s counting on his first- and second-year players to mature along with his veterans. Jones says he wants to ensure his offence can run the football, his defence will be able to stop the run — a huge struggle all season.
Jones also will invest more into his special teams unit, who allowed an average of 12.6 yards per punt return.
“We just got to keep our nose to the grindstone and we never quit on anything,” Jones said. “We have to keep working and do the things that have proved to be successful in the past.”
Welcome to the 2024 off-season.
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