Kerry Joseph's signing turns up heat in Esks' backup battle

While the Edmonton Eskimos have been busy on the housecleaning front under general manager Eric Tillman, their team isn't going to be entirely built of new faces this year. In their search for roster consistency, the team's brought in plenty of guys who have played for Tillman or head coach Kavis Reed in previous stops. Their latest addition is 37-year-old veteran quarterback Kerry Joseph, who played under Tillman in both Ottawa and Saskatchewan as well as in a brief stint with the Eskimos last fall.

The signing of Joseph (pictured above in 2009 with the Toronto Argonauts) is an intriguing one, and it should add fuel to an already-burning battle for the Eskimos' backup quarterback spot. Reed said the one position where he was willing to guarantee a starter heading into training camp was quarterback, where 31-year-old veteran Ricky Ray will again be the first choice. The number-two slot is wide open, though, as incumbent backups Jared Zabransky and Jason Maas are no longer with the team (Maas retired, Zabransky was released).

They've been replaced by an array of interesting prospects, including former Eastern Washington star Matt Nichols (who was on the team's practice roster last year), Canadian Marc Mueller (a former Regina Ram, and Ron Lancaster's grandson) and former Richmond Spider Eric Ward. They also had Missouri State QB Cody Kirby, but he was released (along with a slew of others) after failing a physical. Nichols was thought to have the inside track on the backup job before the Joseph signing, but he told The Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest he isn't upset about having to compete with Joseph.

"You can't worry about who they're bringing in, guys are brought all the time and released all the time in this game," Nichols said. "All you can do is come in and do your best every day. For a quarterback, you just have to keep learning the offence and do what you're asked to do and that's basically what my mindset is."

As Nichols added, the CFL experience he picked up on Edmonton's practice roster last year has helped him out so far.

"That was a big thing for me last year, being able to come up here and learn the CFL game a little bit and be able to prepare for it this off-season," Nichols said. "I'm way ahead of where I would have been had I not been here last year. I think last year helped me a lot and I'm very excited to be up here."

It remains to be seen if Nichols can hold off Joseph for the primary backup slot, but regardless of which quarterback is left holding that designation at the end of the day, the Joseph signing is probably a good one for the Eskimos. Ray has had injury concerns in the past, and having a veteran CFL hand available isn't a bad thing. Edmonton's planning to keep two veterans and a rookie on the main roster and another rookie on the practice roster, so Joseph can probably help develop and push the younger quarterbacks they keep as well. It's not like the Eskimos don't know what they're getting from him, either; Joseph's previous time with the Renegades and Roughriders means Tillman knows what he can do, and his stint on Edmonton's practice roster last fall means Tillman knows exactly where he's at right now. He must have been impressive enough in that stint last fall to earn another go with the team. We'll see if Tillman's history with Joseph pays off this season, but on paper, he brings some experience to a backup quarterback corps that was a bit short on it.

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