Every day, Marcus Crandell tells his players to push aside the distractions and concentrate on their assignments. And every day, he reminds himself to do the same.
It's not easy for the Edmonton Eskimos offensive co-ordinator. His unit is blessed with a solid line, a corps of ample receivers and an assortment of outstanding running backs, and yet it's the second-lowest-scoring offence in the CFL. While much of that has to do with the Eskimos' quarterbacking, Eskimos fans have been grumbling it has to do with Crandell's play calling.
Then, came this week's announcement that Edmonton, in the throes of a three-game losing skid, had hired offensive adviser David Kelly, who was available after resigning from the University of Central Florida over alleged recruiting violations.
It set off another land mine of speculation heading into Saturday's game against the West Division-leading B.C. Lions: Is Crandell's head on the block? Is someone going to pay for the Eskimos' plummet to last place in the West?
Crandell insisted he was too busying working with the offence and planning for B.C. to worry about anything else.
"Teams lose four, five games in a row and still make the playoffs. It's an anything-can-happen league," the former Grey Cup-winning quarterback said. "It's just a matter of putting things together, not making mental mistakes and finding a way to get the ball in the end zone."
According to Crandell, Kelly's addition was discussed among the staff with head coach Kavis Reed, who had brought Kelly to training camp as a guest coach in June. Asked what an offensive adviser could do two days before a game, Reed spoke in generalities; specifics to come.
"Very intelligent football mind," Reed said of Kelly. "He's passionate about football; he's passionate about this team based on how he reacted when he was here earlier. Hearing him out there, prodding the guys on, the guys understand that the same message coming from a different voice, it allows a boost in energy."
What the Eskimos most need is a boost in play at quarterback. Veteran Kerry Joseph has been good at times but is now hobbled by an injury.
Steven Jyles, who will start against B.C., was still finding his way in the offence when he suffered a calf injury.
Both have been victimized by poor play around them around them. Crandell is hoping Jyles can rediscover his effectiveness.
"I think Steven did an outstanding job when he started managing the game," Crandell said. "We didn't ask a lot of him. Now, it's the same thing. He has to do the things necessary for us to win a football game ... The thing I tell [Jyles, Joseph and Matt Nichols, who have thrown just 11 touchdown passes], 'Think about field position. Think about moving the chains and we'll talk on the sidelines when we want to pick our shots down field.'"
Fred Stamps has been a direct victim of the team's struggles. The sneaky-fast slotback leads Edmonton in receiving but could end up with his least productive season in the last four years. During the Eskimos' recent loss at home to the Calgary Stampeders, television cameras showed Joseph and Stamps coming off the field in what looked to be a heated exchange.
Stamps said it was no big deal. "I felt like I could run a better route. I was most angry at myself."
[Joseph] said, 'Calm down.' That's our quarterback. He's patient, and that's the kind of guy we like in our locker room."
The same kind of guy is co-ordinating the offence and calling the plays. He's being pressured but relying on his poise. His message is for every Eskimo, himself included.
"It's what we tell these guys, 'You've got to stay focused on your job,'" Crandell said. "That's what matters."