Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly said Tuesday he will start Saturday against Saskatchewan, and dismissed suggestions the team rushed him back too quickly last week from a concussion.
“Being a competitor and a guy that loves the game and tries to play with as much passion as you can, you don’t ever want to come off the field,” Reilly said after practice at Commonwealth Stadium.
“But at the same time, I’m not an idiot. I’ve looked at what has happened to guys that have come back too early (from concussions). I’ve seen the newspaper articles about guys committing suicide, having issues with concussions down the road.
“As much as I love this game, I’m not going to put myself in a bad position.”
Reilly was concussed on Sept. 28 when he took a pile-driving helmet-to-helmet blow to the back of his head against the Toronto Argonauts.
Four days later, he was cleared to practice, and three days after that he was starting against the Montreal Alouettes, despite criticism from fans and media that he was being rushed back in a futile attempt to salvage a lost season.
Those fears were stoked when the Eskimos ran essentially a Reilly-lite offence in the loss to Montreal, abandoning his successful scrambling style to keep him in the pocket to throw quick “one steamboat” passes and avoid contact.
Reilly said he understood the skepticism, but said a battery of tests from Eskimo and third-party doctors convinced him he was OK.
“It was just very difficult for people to really believe that within seven days I was ready to play,” he said. “I’m not going to put my career in jeopardy for one game.
“But if I’m ready to play — and I knew that I was — and all the proper protocols were passed and I’m medically cleared to play, then I’m not going to take myself off that field because that sends the wrong message about the way that I play.
“It (also) sends the wrong message to my teammates and to the fans that we’ve given up — and that’s simply not the case.”
The 3-11 Eskimos need to win their last four games and have Montreal lose their last four to win a cross-over playoff spot.
Reilly was 13 for 21 for 180 yards and two interceptions before he was pulled at halftime against Montreal, with the Eskimos down 31-3.
After the game, both Reilly and head coach Kavis Reed admitted to reporters the playbook was altered to keep Reilly away from contact.
“We wanted to be very careful in how we used him and managed the game that way,” said Reed at the time.
“Play-calling wise we wanted to make certain we didn’t put him in a situation where he was exposed to protection breakdowns, like running the football and all those things.”
On Tuesday, however, Reed denied the game plan was adjusted to specifically keep Reilly out of harm’s way.
“We made certain that we had a game plan that the ball was going to come out quickly from Mike’s hand because we were playing a high-pressure defence,” said Reed.
“I said that we did things to get the ball out of (Reilly’s) hands quickly and to be responsible with our quarterback,” he added when asked if he was misinterpreted by reporters.
“That was the game plan. (It was) not because of concussion.”
Regardless, “One Steamboat” Reilly is no more. The quarterback confirmed from here on out the plan will be for him to roam, scramble and improvise.
Football doesn’t work any other way, he said.
“If we’re going to design plays around the possibility of me getting hurt, I may as well just not play anymore,” he said.
“Every time you set foot on that field you understand you’re at risk from an injury. But if you’re playing with that in mind, you aren’t going to be effective in this league.”