October 1, 2019

Three Eskimos Close In On 1,000-Yard Seasons

The only thing that really matters to the Eskimos this week is securing a CFL playoff berth.

If the Esks, 7-7, can knock off the league-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 11-3, in Friday’s game at 5 p.m. MDT at Tim Hortons Field (TSN, 630 CHED), they would be guaranteed at least a crossover playoff berth in the East Division semifinal.

A win would also be sweet revenge for a recent 30-27 loss to the Ticats at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium and keep alive the Eskimos’ chances of sneaking into the West Division playoffs with three games left to play.

For that to happen, the Eskimos will need as many big plays as possible from the likes of receivers DaVaris Daniels, Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins, Jr., plus running back C.J. Gable.

“As long as we come out with the win, that’s all that matters,” Gable said. “And if it does happen that all three of us get to 1,000 yards and we get the win, that’d be even better.”

Ellingson, who went over the 7,000-yard mark in his seven-year CFL career last weekend, needs 79 receiving yards to post his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard performance while Collins is just 75 yards away from his first 1,000-yard milestone as a professional football player. Meanwhile, Gable is only 50 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards for the second year in a row.

Collins (925) and Ellingson (921) rank seventh and eighth, respectively, among the league’s top receivers while Gable (950) is second overall behind Andrew Harris of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“Personal success comes as a byproduct of team success,” said quarterback Logan Kilgore. “If you’re a team that’s moving the ball and getting yards and scoring points, then there’s going to be some guys who directly benefit personally from that.

“But I know each one of those guys would trade any of those stats for a win this week and that’s what makes our team special. As a quarterback, I want nothing more than for those guys to achieve all of their personal goals and get the recognition and accolades that they all deserve because I see how hard those guys work, as well as everybody on our team.”

Ellingson, a 30-year-old veteran who has been there, done that, said “it’s always nice when you hit that (1,000-yard) milestone as a receiver,” but pointed out that he’ll pay more attention to those type of things after the season when he critiques and self-evaluates his performance to see if he met his goals, “whatever they might be.”

“We have (four) games left and we’ve got to win one week at a time,” he said. “That’s really what the focus is at the end of the year.”

The 1,000-yard milestone would mean more at this time to Collins, a 27-year-old receiver in his fourth CFL season who hasn’t accomplished the feat since his senior year of college in 2014.

“It’ll be a big accomplishment to get to 1,000 yards if it happens this game or the next game,” he said. “That’s one of those accomplishments where it feels like I’ve finally arrived – ‘Now I’m here and everyone should be on notice.’

“I’m just happy that I can contribute to the team and help the team makes plays, whether it’s a long pass or a short pass.”

Daniels said after Saturday’s 21-16 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks that the Eskimos have “a bunch of play-makers and guys who are willing to make that extra effort to make plays when it counts.”

For example, Daniels made a crucial 51-yard reception over the middle to set up Tevaun Smith’s game-winning touchdown catch in double coverage with 2:52 remaining. Daniels has 672 receiving yards on 47 catches in nine games.

“When you have established players who have skill sets that are drastically different from each other, but all are very good at what they do, there’s a little bit of a learning curve just understanding how they run certain routes, when to trust them on certain things, because each of those guys doesn’t have to be wide open to make catches,” said quarterback Logan Kilgore, who has started each of the last two games in place of injured starter Trevor Harris. “They’re all very good at making contested catches.”

Daniels, 26, has speed to burn and the ability to turn defensive backs inside-out while Ellingson, one of the toughest players in the league and an experienced route-runner, is one of the best players in the CFL at getting yards after catch (YAC) because he’s so difficult to bring down. Collins also has elite speed and the ability to quickly change direction or make a quick break like Daniels. Collins can also get YAC as he showed last week against Ottawa, catching Kilgore’s first pass of the game at the line of scrimmage and racing 21 yards down the field.

“Anybody in this offence on this team can go off (at any time),” Collins said. “We just feed off each other and play ball.”

If Gable reaches his 1,000-yard goal before the end of the regular season, he would become the first Eskimos running back to do so in back-to-back seasons since Mike Pringle in 2003-04.

“I feel like I make a difference when I get the ball in my hands,” said Gable, who felt he wasn’t utilized often enough when he played in Hamilton from 2013 until he was traded to Edmonton on Oct. 2, 2017.

“My goal every year is to hit that (1,000-yard) mark,” he added. “It’d be great if I can hit it again. That would show the hard work I put in and the hard work our offensive line has put in – basically, the whole offence because the receivers help block downfield as well.”

Gable said he “was just getting comfortable back there” when the Eskimos kept handing him the ball for several plays in a row on two different drives during the third quarter of Saturday’s game at Ottawa as the Green and Gold controlled the game situation and ran down the clock.

“You just go with it,” Gable said. “The O-line would open up the hole and I’d just run and break tackles. That’s about it really.”

Gable’s career high with the Tiger-Cats was 130 carries as a rookie, but he had 196 carries in 16 games with the Eskimos last year and he’s already at 193 rushing touches in 13 games this season.

Kilgore was impressed that the 31-year-old Gable is able to absorb as much punishment as he does and then just hop right back up ready to run again.

“When they hit me, I really don’t feel it,” Gable said. “Mostly, it’s about maintaining your body after the game and they do a great job here with that.”

But stats only tell half the story about Gable, according to Kilgore.

“First and foremost, he is an elite back running the football, obviously an elite back with yards after contact and just his toughness and all those things,” Kilgore said, “but at the end of the day, I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for being an excellent pass protector. The offensive line loves having him back there, his quarterbacks love having him back there and he’s a very under-rated pass catcher as well. He’s caught a bunch of balls for us this year.

“I wish there was a statistic for pass protection. We have them internally, but I can’t say enough about his willingness to sacrifice his body (to block big defensive linemen). His mental preparation as far as watching film of blitzes and pass protection is just incredible, probably the best I’ve ever been around.”