November 1, 2019

Eskimos Still Want To Win While Protecting Top Assets

It hasn’t been uncommon to see the Eskimos make several lineup changes before a CFL game the last few years.

Injuries have devastated the Eskimos roster so many times, dictating multiple roster moves. Even now, the Green and Gold have 11 players on the six-game injured list, including five potential starters, plus starting running back C.J. Gable (lower-body injury) on the one-game injured list.

With the exception of kick-returner Christion Jones, who will miss the remainder of the CFL season with an injury to his left knee suffered in Saturday’s game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Eskimos are making decisions this week based upon their own criteria.

Starting quarterback Trevor Harris, slotback Ricky Collins, Jr., wide receiver Greg Ellingson, and national fullback Alex Taylor have all been shifted to the one-game injured list, along with Jones, while defensive back Brian Walker was transferred to the practice roster for Saturday’s regular-season finale against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at 2 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina (TSN, 630 CHED).

“We’re in the boat we’re in because we didn’t win enough games and now we’re not afforded the opportunity to fight for first or second or third,” Head Coach Jason Maas said. “At the end of the day, we’re going there with what’s best for our team and getting Trevor completely healthy for the playoffs is what’s best for our organization.

“We saw what we needed to see out of him (27 of 37 passing for 321 yards last week). We let him play a game. He’s still not 100 per cent. We just want him to get even better, and the only way he’s going to accomplish that is by a week of rest. He’s still practising, but not with the ability to go out and injure himself in a game.

“We’ve won with Logan (Kilgore, 2-2) as our starter,” Maas pointed out. “If anyone thinks we’re just starting Logan so we can go in there and bow down, they’re mistaken. Heavily mistaken. Watch how we play. That’ll be the moniker. How we go out there and finish, the season is what’s expected of our guys. Go in there and finish it strong.”

The Eskimos have been guaranteed fourth place in the West Division and a berth in the East Division Semifinal against the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 10th for three weeks already.

Edmonton will also be sitting out several other starters who will remain on the game roster. As a result, several players will make their first or second starts of the season or maybe even of their CFL careers.

For example, the entire defensive line of Kwaku Boateng, Almondo Sewell, Mike Moore and Nick Usher are listed as backups while first-round draft pick Mathieu Betts, Kendal Vickers and Mark Mackie will all make their first CFL start while 29-year-old veteran defensive end Alex Bazzie gets his second start of the season.

Middle linebacker Jon Walton will make his first CFL start in place of Larry Dean, the team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, while the Most Outstanding Rookie, Vontae Diggs, returns to the starting lineup for the first time in three games.

The only change in the secondary has 2018 draft pick Jordan Beaulieu (third round) making his first CFL start with Jordan Hoover serving as a backup.

Offensively, the offensive line remains intact with left tackle Kyle Saxelid, left guard Jacob Ruby, centre David Beard, right guard Matt O’Donnell and right tackle Colin Kelly. But you’ll need to visit the Esks website to learn more about who the other receivers are.

Canadian wide receiver Tevaun Smith is listed a backups while Global player Diego Viamontes of Mexico (first CFL start) and Kevin Elliott (second start this year) draw into the starting lineup as slotbacks. Harry McMaster, a 2018 draft pick, will also make his first start at wide receiver.

Veteran DaVaris Daniels and national receiver Natey Adjei complete the starting receiving corps.

Running back Shaquille (Shaq) Cooper will make his third consecutive start in place of the injured Gable while versatile James Tuck draws the starting assignment at fullback in place of 13-year veteran Calvin McCarty – who is listed as the backup running back.

“It’s a good thing, but there won’t be a letdown, trust me,” said Maas. “We’re going to go in there to play ball. That’s the message that’s been sent all week; I don’t care who we line up with.

“We haven’t lined up with all of our guys all year anyway,” he pointed out. “It’s been rare when we’ve had everybody. We played five games without Trevor. There’s no excuse. There’s no nothing. There’s no bowing down. We’re going in there with the group that we have and the mindset to win a ball game.”

The Eskimos, 8-9, lost the first game in the home-and-home series with the Roughriders 27-24 on a walk-off field goal last Saturday at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium with the healthiest lineup they had available.

The Roughriders, 12-5, need a victory to clinch the West Division title for the first time since 2009, but a loss to the Eskimos on Saturday would open the door for the Calgary Stampeders, 11-6, to claim first place if they can defeat the BC Lions later Saturday night.

“I don’t want to play with anyone on this field who doesn’t want to win this game,” said Boateng, who is listed as a backup. “I know we’re resting some people, but ultimately, I want to be around people who want to go out and win this game. For Saskatchewan, this game means something to them so my competitive juices are flowing and I want to go out there and win that game.

“Saturday to me is like any other game. Also, you want to look at Montreal as the most important game going forward, but right now, we can’t get to Montreal until we beat Saskatchewan.

“Yes, Montreal is going to have a different taste because that’s a knockout round,” Boateng continued.

“But if we are too passive going against Saskatchewan, that’s going to roll over to Montreal, so I’d rather go full-throttle through Saskatchewan so we can keep the ball rolling into Montreal.

“Stay healthy. That’s the key.”

Harris injury gave Kilgore opportunity

It wasn’t ideal that Harris had to miss almost five complete games this season, but it enabled Kilgore to get a lot of playing time during the last two months. The Eskimos are better off because of it.

“He obviously gives us a lot of confidence as a team if something was to happen to Trevor in the playoffs,” Maas said. “We have a backup we can win with.

“At the end of the day, you want your guy behind the starter to have some reps or be a veteran presence enough to ease everyone’s mind, and he did that. If not for his play and our team’s play with Logan in there, we’re not in the position we’re in right now. As fruitless as some people think that is, it’s huge that we’re in the playoffs and we have two guys we think we can win with.”

If Harris had his way, he’d be playing this weekend, but he understands why the Eskimos have made their decisions.

“I wish I could play every snap,” he said. “I don’t train all day in the off-season and do all these things that we do and work our tails off to watch or anything of that nature. I’ve already missed five games. I don’t want to miss another one. This one, I’d love to play in the full game if I could.

“But you’ve got to know the bigger picture of what’s most important right now,” he said about the playoffs.

Harris said he didn’t start feeling like his old self until the fourth quarter last Saturday.

“I had no adverse effects, but I feel great,” he said. “I actually feel better now than I did last week during the week. The fact I haven’t had to think about my arm since the game has been great.”

Rookie Troy Williams will be the backup quarterback this week.

Short yardage:

  • Gable became the first Eskimos running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Mike Pringle in 2003-04 without playing a down the last three games.
  • Apparently, as part of an annual review, the CFL discovered that Gable had been shortchanged by four rushing yards on play No. 119 in Game 64 of the season. Gable had been initially credited with a four-yard catch on the play in a 30-27 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium. Gable’s rushing total for the season has been since adjusted to 1,001 yards.
  • With McCarty’s one-yard touchdown run after Moore recovered a fumble at the Saskatchewan one-yard line last week, the Eskimos have the longest and shortest TD drives of the CFL season. Edmonton had a 109-yard touchdown drive in the first week of the season.
  • This is the third set of back-to-back Eskimos-Roughriders games since 1995. The teams split the other two sets in 2000 and 2009.
  • Saskatchewan’s six-game winning streak at home is their longest since 2010.
  • At 11-2, the Roughriders have the best record in the CFL since the fifth week of the season.