Elks receiver Eugene Lewis ‘erases’ his quarterbacks’ mistakes


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If Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius doesn’t bump his tepid 57.6% career completion rate this season, Eugene Lewis will have some explaining to do.

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Lewis, the prize pick of the Canadian Football League’s free-agent crop this year, brought his pass-catching talents to Edmonton, where he said he expects to be an “eraser” for his quarterbacks, just as he was in Montreal from 2017 through 2022.

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“If a quarterback throws a ball and it’s not a perfect pass, I make it a perfect pass. That’s just what you do,” Lewis proclaimed Thursday at Commonwealth Stadium as the Elks prepared for Saturday’s pre-season home game against Winnipeg. “For a receiver, if you make a quarterback look good, the receiver is going to look good, everybody is going to look good, and get paid.”

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Lewis got paid by the Elks, hauling down a reported $320,000 per season on a two-year deal. It’s a sum that would make him the league’s highest earner outside of the quarterback position.

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He chose Edmonton on the opening day of free agency in February, knowing that Cornelius, a six-foot-five, 230-pounder, would be the starting quarterback.

The free-agent market wasn’t exactly flush with established pivots — Cody Fajardo and Trevor Harris basically swapped spots in Saskatchewan and Montreal — so the Elks banked instead on organic improvement from the 27-year-old Cornelius in his third CFL season and hedged that bet by supplying him with prime targets like Lewis, former Hamilton Ticat Steven Dunbar Jr. and former Saskatchewan Roughrider Kyran Moore. They joined Dillon Mitchell, who rang up 608 yards and four TDs in just nine games as an Elks rookie in 2022.

There is talk that all four could hit the 1,000-yard mark, though that will depend on the chemistry they create, on the strength of the offensive line, on significant improvement from Cornelius, and on the ability of Lewis to make his QB shine.

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“I love the potential that he has,” Lewis said of Cornelius, whom he calls the Treehouse. “I think his ceiling is really, really high. I just feel he needed a little help with the receivers, just knowing that he doesn’t have to be perfect on all the passes. Just put it in an area for all of us and we’re going to make a play.”

That sounds more like sandlot ball than what we will surely see from the Elks. But Dunbar used some of the same words to describe Cornelius and that’s either simple coincidence, or they are parroting the script written by Elks management as they went about selling the merits of Cornelius to free agents.

“He’s got a lot of ceiling, man,” Dunbar said. “He could be a really good player and I think he has a lot to prove to this league and I think he has a lot more potential that people haven’t seen yet. I’m excited to play with him and be a part of his journey, too.”

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Lewis and Dunbar certainly appear to be on the same page and that’s at least a good start. There doesn’t seem to be any concern that Cornelius and backup Tre Ford will be able to feed the new stable of receivers a steady diet of footballs.

“You’ve got to understand, for receivers, especially the really good ones, you always need guys around you because at the end of the day we’re going to help each other,” Lewis said. “If you have a team that just has one receiver and there is no complement to it, everybody knows where it’s going.

“With the team we have right now and the receiving corps we have, it’s pick your poison, man. So many guys and we’re going to feed off each other. Sometimes I’m going to get doubled, sometimes (Dunbar is) going to get doubled, sometimes D Mitch is going to get doubled, so we all just got to complement each other and make the plays when they come our way.”

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Lewis left Montreal as the reigning Most Outstanding Player in the East Division and his all-star 2022 campaign was an eye-opener. He hit career highs in receiving yards with 1,303 and TDs with 10. Through 68 career regular-season games, he has caught 63% of passes thrown his way. It might have been higher, one supposes, if the Als hadn’t cycled through so many quarterbacks.

“In 2018, I had like 11 starters, but I made it work no matter what,” Lewis said. “For me, I always make it seem like I have to be an eraser for the quarterback. So I know what a great quarterback does, but I also can help a young quarterback to get better and get paid, so that’s part of my goal.”

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