August 5, 2014

Esks refreshed and refocused with eyes on Als Staff

EDMONTON — Through five games this season, the Eskimos find themselves sitting in great position with a 4-1 record in the West Division.

However, with no team below .500 in the West, there is no time to get too complacent or comfortable. A string of losses can easily change a four-win team sitting one game out of first into a .500 squad dwelling in the basement of the competitive West.

The 2013 edition of the Eskimos needed 19 weeks to find its fourth victory; this year’s team accomplished the feat in four consecutive games to begin the season. Now, coming off its first bye week of the campaign, the team is upbeat and in high spirits.

After a few days off, one has to wonder how time away from the field can affect the psyche and focus of the players.

“You have to get them back and run them to make sure you get the vacation out,” said head coach Chris Jones after the team’s return from the break.

Easing a team back into its usual practice regimen can be a challenge, so Jones decided to change up his set of drills while throwing in some unique training equipment.

The first-year Eskimos head coach introduced sledge hammers and tires in preparation for this week’s matchup. He pitted his players against one another in races up the stadium aisles to refocus his charges and keep them hungry.

When asked why he altered his practice routine during the bye week, Jones responded, “We try to add some variety to what we are doing so we keep our guys sharp.”

Off the field, the bye allows many of the players to rest their legs and recover from the various bumps and bruises that inevitably come with the rigors of the CFL season. The extra week gave Eskimos linebacker JC Sherritt some added time to rehab a lower-body injury – possibly enough for the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year to return to action in Week 7.

For the rest of the league, that’s a scary thought – a defence that sits atop several key categories will add a refreshed and recharged player who holds the league’s single season record in tackles.

Jones seemed to enjoy the thought of having his defensive stalwart back full time.

“Certainly he’s a great player and has been a great player for a long time. We will try and find him a place to fit into,” mused the coach.

Week 7 will see the Eskimos visit the Alouettes – a team coming off a lopsided 31-5 home loss to the Argonauts in Week 6. Edmonton is anticipating a strong rebound effort from a hungry Montreal squad.

The Als’ uncertain situation at quarterback and its revamped coaching staff add an extra dimension to the Eskimos’ preparations.

“We need to prepare for both quarterbacks and certainly they are somewhat different, so our guys have to do double the work,” commented Jones. “It’s a huge challenge for us to go on the road and win this ball game.”

One player who is looking forward to the trip is defensive lineman and Sherbrooke, Quebec native Elie Ngoyi.

“I’ve been excited for this game since the beginning of the year and can’t wait to get back to Montreal and play against the Alouettes,” said a smiling Ngoyi.

The Eskimos’ Week 5 setback to their provincial rivals out of Calgary remained the lone sore spot for the team during its week away from game action.

When asked about the team’s lone blemish on the season, defensive tackle Almondo Sewell showed no signs of putting the 26-22 loss behind him.

“We won’t forget about that one, but you know, Labour Day is just around the corner.”

Catch the Edmonton Eskimos vs. the Montreal Alouettes on Friday, August 8 on TSN and RDS at 7:00pm ET.

– With files from