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Week 1 Edmonton Elks vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders Preview

Before we begin to celebrate a new season with the Edmonton Elks for their 2023 Home Opener vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Edmonton Elks released the following statement as they will honour Christian Saulsberry who tragically passed away on December 17th, 2022. The Edmonton Elks will play their 2023 season with heavy hearts.  

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Elks will celebrate the life of Christian Saulsberry during the team’s 2023 home opener against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday.

Both endzones will feature ‘25’ painted on the turf, in honour of the number worn by the late Elks running back.

Saulsberry’s roommate and close friend, Edmonton running back Kevin Brown will carry a ‘Saulsberry 25’ flag out to midfield and there will be a moment of silence. Tribute videos will be shown in stadium featuring Saulsberry highlights, and his Green and Gold teammates sharing memories of the return specialist.

Elks players on the active roster will have ‘Saulsberry 25’ decals on their helmets, while practice roster players will be wearing ‘Saulsberry 25’ shirts. All Elks staff will wear ‘Saulsberry 25’ pins.

The game will be attended by Saulsberry’s family, including mother Melissa Smith, father Vince Smith, sister Caitlyn Smith and grandmother Erma Saulsberry.

Saulsberry played eight games with the Elks in 2022, totalling 635 yards on kickoff returns, 235 yards on punt returns, and 78 yards on missed field goal returns. He had the 2022 CFL season single-game high for kick return yards (175, at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Oct. 8) and the highest punt return average (12.4 yards) of any Edmonton player with at least 15 punt returns over the last 25 years.

Saulsberry tragically died on Dec. 17, 2022, at age 25 in Memphis, Tenn.

The Edmonton Elks Turnaround Starts Now

And so it begins. The Edmonton Elks will begin their week 1 tilt vs the Saskatchewan Roughriders to start their 2023 Canadian Football League season.

To be fair, it is a perfect matchup for both football teams. Both teams experienced a horrific season in 2022 for various reasons. For the Edmonton Elks, it has been a back-to-back disastrous season in which they seemed to regress further from any objective of obtaining any positive achievements at any level of improvement. The Saskatchewan Roughriders have a football club that could not compete during any games in the latter half of the 2022 season which they would lose seven games in a row to complete their respected 2022 season. During that stretch from week 10, the Saskatchewan Roughriders would complete a dismal record of recording a 2-8 record in which they would miss the playoffs with an overall record of 6-12.

So, now you have two teams that are trying to start fresh and rekindle their team identity for good reasons. The only benefit of being rock bottom for both clubs, it that there is only one direction to go. 

And that is up.

The question primarily for the 2023 Edmonton Elks is can they play consistent football? Because at the end of the day, they cannot have a squad which is behind the eight ball on multiple occasions as it has been in the last two seasons. If the Elks can create long drives frequently and put points on the board more often, then they should be able to compete this season and experience a massive turnaround in heading in the right direction moving forward. 

Week 1 Edmonton Elks Depth Chart

At quarterback, the Edmonton Elks will start Taylor Cornelius. This will be followed by Kai Locksley at QB2, and Tre Ford at QB3. It would not be surprising at all if Coach Chris Jones does use all three quarterbacks in certain offensive schemes aside from short-yardage plays. Kai Locksley has proven his value as he proved this as a wide receiver last season.

The offensive line will consist of LT Andrew Garnett, LG David Foucault, C Mark Korte, RG Thomas Jack-Kurdyla, and RT Josiah St. John.

Kevin Brown will start at running back and will have the load off his shoulders by having the benefit of Shannon Brooks at RB2. Shannon Brooks was impressive in training camp along with the preseason. This will make the Edmonton Elk’s running game a huge asset in 2023 as they will now have a two-headed monster.

As far as the receiving core is concerned, the Elks did make a big splash in upgrading the offense by adding on via free agency. This will be a huge compliment for whoever is at quarterback during any given week if there is an unfortunate injury, Coach Chris Jones has set up the Elks quarterbacks for success in 2023. Dillion Michell will start at WR on the left side. He will be complemented by Eugene Lewis at SB on the same side. This will then be followed by Emmanuel Arceneaux, Vincent Forbes-Mombleau, and Stephen Dunbar Jr. will be set on the right side of the line of scrimmage.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Edmonton Elks will begin with a 4-3 formation. This will consist of DE Jake Ceresna, DT Kony Ealy, DT Daniel Ross, A.C. Leonard, LB Adam Konar, Nyles Morgan, and Enock Makonzo. In the secondary, it is CB Ed Gainey, DB Dwayne Thomson, DB Darrius Bratton, Mark McLaurin who will be slotted in as a free safety from his natural position of linebacker, and CB Kai Gray who moves from his natural position of defensive back.

Week 1 Saskatchewan Roughriders Depth Chart

Edmonton Elks Keys to the Game

The Edmonton Elks have an opportunity to utilize the left side of the offensive side of the ball. Having Dillion Mitchell and Eugene Lewis line up on the left side, will open up a lot of options for Taylor Cornelius. He will have the opportunity to take advantage of a possible weak spot vs. Saskatchewan. There is no doubt that the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be having their hands full with the option of running an attack also on the left side. Both Andrew Garnett and David Foucault have to have a solid game for this to work. If it does, this will be a big momentum boost for the Edmonton Elks. If it seems to run on all cylinders, Taylor Cornelius can use his legs also as he has also proven to be effective in this department.

On the defence, it is simple. Start playing your opponents tighter. The Edmonton Elks secondary was far from special last season in which collectively only had ten interceptions. This is something that the secondary must improve. Even if it is not an interception, they cannot be beaten regularly as it was the norm for the last two seasons where they would be three to four strides behind causing the defence to be as soft as tissue paper. The front seven was the best part of the defence last season in which they still kept the Elks in the game as much as they could. Jake Ceresna was the cornerstone of the defence. And rightfully so. He will now have the help of A.C. Leonard on the opposite end to create pressure. Adam Konar will be more effective this season as he was a huge compliment for the Elk’s defense when healthy like a good part of last year’s roster.

As the Elks were the most depleted team in 2022 with multiple long-term injuries, the inevitable game to fruition every week. No team in the CFL was able to have any effect in any game out with the number of bodies dropping by the day.

The time is now.

The constant losing ends now.

The winning starts now.

The home losing streak ends now.

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author avatar
Dino Sepe Reporter
Dino Sepe has been an avid sports fan since he was nine years old. He has read multiple books regarding sports history from various eras, the origins of the game, great dynasties, great coaches, and great players. Dino's experience in writing was obtained at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario through the Theater Performance program. As an avid football fan following the NFL, CFL, NCAA, and USports Football, Dino has been writing about the Canadian Football League in various capacities since 2019. In December 2021, Dino joined the CFL News Hub team. Dino is proud to be part of the CFL News Hub contributing team and looks forward to covering the Edmonton Elks going into the future.
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