We’re under four hours from the Eskimos’ first preseason game of 2012. As the clock ticks away, Matt Nichols’ fantastic opportunity inches closer.
For the last six months and three days, the quarterback position has been in flux for the Eskimos — at least in the eyes of some vocal Eskimos fans and critics of the Ricky Ray trade. Even if Steven Jyles (who will play next week at Commonwealth against the B.C. Lions) holds the fort down this season or even the next two or three, he’s turning 30 in September. The odds are that he’s not the long-term option behind centre.
On Monday, I was a part of the TEAM 1260′s roundtable. The long-term outlook for the quarterback position came up and Wil Fraser said what many fans have said for a long time, even before the Ray trade: it doesn’t seem like there’s a plan in place for the Eskimos’ future at quarterback.
That’s where Nichols comes in. The 25-year-old has had a great camp in 2012. He’s leapfrogged Eric Ward on the depth chart, leading to Ward being released on June 2. Now, Nichols will get the start in tonight’s preseason game against Calgary. He said on Thursday that he wasn’t told how much time he’d get, just that he was the first QB in on Friday. I’d guess if Nichols does well out there that his audition might stretch into a long night.
If Nichols were to go out and drop jaws tonight — play smart, efficient and productive with only a sampling of the team’s high-end offensive pieces — he could make the final two weeks of the preseason very interesting. Kavis Reed said on Thursday that there’s still room for Nichols to move up. I don’t see him taking Jyles out of that starting gig, but it sounds like if Nichols shows that he’s capable and that he’s grown enough from last season, he could trade spots with Kerry Joseph as Jyles’ backup.
Now, if that were to happen, what would radio roundtableists and Eskimos fans say? Does a hungry and talented 25-year-old as a backup quarterback change opinions in the stands, on Twitter and on the message boards?
Of course, this is advance chatter that’s far too reliant on if-then statements for a person like me, who struggles with math beyond figuring out score differentials and how to count time backwards.
Anything could happen tonight. Nichols could play fantastic or poorly. He could be average and give way to Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Summers for the rest of the night. But there’s an opportunity here tonight for a guy who has gone from the practice roster in 2010 to being hidden on the injured roster in 2011 and now appears to at least be the team’s third-stringer this season. McMahon Stadium is Matt Nichols’ stage tonight. If he puts on a show, the script might have to veer off in a new direction.