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Eskimos bring Joseph back to CFL as insurance

Toronto Argonauts quarterback Kerry Joseph, left, looks to pass as Hamilton Tiger-Cats' Otis Floyd hangs onto his jersey during first half CFL action in Toronto on Friday, October 23, 2009.

Darren Calabrese

This is why head coaches don't like to see their quarterbacks running for 135 yards a night: They get exposed to contact, they get hit from all angles and, too many times, they get hurt.

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray left his footprints all over the B.C. Lions two weeks ago but it may have cost him the rest of the CFL season. Ray suffered a strained shoulder muscle in that game and couldn't play last Saturday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. On Tuesday, the team announced it was bringing in 37-year-old free agent passer Kerry Joseph, who hasn't played a down since last year.

That the Eskimos would turn to Joseph speaks to the seriousness of Ray's injury. All last week, Ray rested in the hopes of playing against Saskatchewan then couldn't. Asked when he knew for sure Ray wasn't good to go, Edmonton head coach Richie Hall replied: "In the warm-ups."

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Ray couldn't throw and the Eskimos huddled around backup Jared Zabransky, who made several critical plays in a 39-24 win and didn't turn the ball over. Team officials have said only that Ray's status - exact injury: a second-degree strain of the serratus anterior muscle that stabilizes the shoulder blade - is week to week but privately they acknowledge that's being hopeful. This much is fact: Ray will miss Edmonton's game on Saturday against the quarterback-impaired Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are down to their fourth-string pivot, CFL rookie Joey Elliott. Zabransky will start again and be backed up by Jason Maas while Joseph, scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on Wednesday, has been signed for this year and the next.

He could be on the roster this weekend.

Just how much Joseph will be asked to do will depend on how well Zabransky plays and whether Edmonton makes the West Division semi-final and faces the Riders in Regina on Nov. 14. Having won four of their past five games, the Eskimos have made a run for third place playing with confidence. Even without Ray, that isn't expected to change, Hall insisted.

"We're handling adversity better, that's been a key for us. We have to play hard and protect the football and win our games. Then everything takes care of itself," the coach said.

Joseph was rushed to Edmonton by general manager Eric Tillman, who cut Joseph's salary when the two were with the Riders, then traded him to the Toronto Argonauts in 2008. The following season, Joseph and the uninspired Argonauts stumbled to a 3-15 record. When Jim Barker took over as the new head coach, one of the first things he did was dump all three of his quarterbacks, including Joseph.

He continued working out in Florida, waiting for a team to contact him. No offers came even when the Blue Bombers lost three quarterbacks. Finally, it was a chance call to Tillman prior to the game last Saturday that landed the Grey Cup-winning quarterback in Edmonton. Joseph wanted Tillman to check on the Winnipeg situation; Tillman ended up needing Joseph given the Eskimos' situation.

"Richie [Hall]and I both are very pleased to add a proven veteran at such a critical position, especially at this time of the year," Tillman said in a news release. "With fresh legs, a healthy body, and tons of playing experience in pressure packed games, Kerry has much to offer if he's called upon."

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Joseph threw for more than 4,000 yards, 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2007. He also ran for 737 yards and scored 13 touchdowns and was voted the CFL's most outstanding player. He helped Saskatchewan win the Grey Cup that year over Winnipeg.

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Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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