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After Edmonton Eskimos slotback Adarius Bowman managed only two catches for 13 yards in the season opener, quarterback Mike Reilly pointed out that the all-star receiver was still a factor “just not statistically.”
It was a different story in the Eskimos’ home opener last Friday at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
Bowman, who led the CFL with 120 receptions and 1,761 yards last season, delivered a strong second-half performance to finish with nine catches for 117 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter as the Eskimos rallied for a 23-19 win over the Montreal Alouettes.
“Against the BC Lions, he was effective in the game in what we needed him to do and that was to open guys up,” said Reilly, explaining that when Bowman draws double coverage, other receivers are often left in situations they can exploit.
“That has not been his role very often in this league, but a true pro and a vet like him, a guy who wants to win, is going to do it with the understanding that he’s going to get his opportunity pretty quickly because you’re not going to hold Adarius down for very long.”
Reilly pointed out that the Eskimos were all about the big play against the Lions, with rookie Duke Williams making a splash in his CFL debut with four catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. Williams caught a couple of deep balls, with his longest reception going for 44 yards.
“He’s aggressive for the ball,” Reilly noted. “Duke is obviously one of those guys where more often than not, he’s going to come down with it and, if he doesn’t, no one is.
“You’ve got to have confidence when you throw that (deep) ball that he’s going to go up and make a play and he’s given me a lot of reasons to be confident.”
Second-year receiver Brandon Zylstra caught the 76-yard bomb to set up Sean Whyte’s game-winning field goal against B.C. and finished with 152 yards on seven catches while 2015 East Division rookie-of-the-year Vidal Hazelton had a 13-yard pass-and-run TD among his three catches in his Eskimos debut.
“We stretched the ball down the field; we made big plays when we wanted to,” Reilly said. “Against Montreal, it was a different game. They were dropping off into some deeper coverage, bringing pressures, things like that.”
Plus, the Eskimos were dropping passes left and right in the first half.
“Sometimes, it just takes a little dump underneath with a catch and run that gets you 12 or 13 yards and gets that initial first down and a drive going and moves the chains to feel like you’re on a little bit of a roll,” Reilly said about a couple of Hazelton catches early in the second half.
Then “Adarius did Adarius,” according to Reilly, making grabs on back-to-back plays to set up Sean Whyte’s career-high 55-yard field goal, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with “an amazing catch” in the back of the end zone and adding a key 21-yard reception on second-and-long midway through the fourth quarter before Reilly and the offence ran the final 2:56 off the clock.
Wide receiver Derel Walker, who teamed up with Bowman last year to become the first Eskimos receivers to catch 100 or more passes in the same season and also set a CFL record with 3,318 receiving yards by two teammates, was on the sidelines at The Brick Field on Friday.
Walker, who will be at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ NFL training camp later this month, returned to Edmonton to support his former teammates in their first home game of the 2017 season.
“We feel confident we can attack defences in multiple ways,” said Reilly. “(The opposing defence) is going to dictate who has a big day, but regardless of what they do, people are going to have big days and it’s just going to get spread around.
“I got asked a lot during the off-season about Derel leaving for good reason – he was a great player for us, had huge production – but I wasn’t worried about it because I knew what we had waiting in the wings. That’s what this league is all about. You get your opportunity and you’ve got to make the most of it and our guys have done a good job of being ready for that.”