Esks seeking answers, not excuses, as they seek to right the ship against Lions

EDMONTON — Given injuries and all the new faces, it might have been tempting for the Edmonton Eskimos to lean on excuses after having their defence dominated last week.

Instead, the Eskimos spent the days since looking for answers, knowing Jonathon Jennings and the B.C. Lions will be eager to provide another test Friday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Between off-season personnel changes and having five starting defensive players, including both cornerbacks, on the six-game injured list, the defence the Eskimos put on the field last Friday was no match for Jeremiah Masoli and the Hamilton Tiger-cats, who waltzed to a 38-21 win.

“First of all, in our culture that’s never going to be tolerated,” said veteran linebacker J.C. Sherritt. “Feeling sorry for yourself, I mean that’s the quickest way out the door. We don’t tolerate that here for a second.

“You’ve just got to learn from your mistakes. It’s a very long season. I was here when B.C. was 0-5 (2011) and it was the worst team I’d ever seen in my life. I watched them become unbeatable and Grey Cup champions. That’s the CFL. It’s who can improve every week, who can learn from their mistakes.”

Masoli passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns and the Ticats rushed for 196 yards to roll up 528 yards of total offence. That loss came on the heels of what was anything but an airtight defensive display in a 33-30 season-opening win over Winnipeg.

More of the same won’t do against the Lions and Jennings, who opened the season with 22-10 win over the Montreal Alouettes.

“For us, it’s just a matter of learning, understanding what we have to do and being consistent,” said defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides. “We were victimized. We weren’t good enough. That’s my responsibility.

“In Week 2, we were from being as good as we can be, but we need to make sure we make it right tomorrow.”

Jennings, who went 20-for-24 for 183 yards and two touchdowns against the Alouettes, faces an Edmonton defence that ranks seventh in total offence allowed per game (409.5 yards) and sits eighth in rushing yards allowed per game (166.5).

“There’s things here and there that we’ve seen on film that might be able to work,” B.C. receiver Bryan Burnham told bclions.com after practice Wednesday. “But we know that after that (Hamilton) game they’re going to come hungry.

“They’re going to come ready to play, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s and, you know, making plays, doing the right thing, not making any mistakes because they’re going to come fired up and ready to get a win.”

Statistics aside, Edmonton’s defence — Almondo Sewell is the only returning defensive lineman in front of a secondary that is dealing with injuries to corners Johnny Adams and Arjen Colquhoun as well as Forrest Hightower — simply hasn’t made enough plays.

“I think that there’s tremendous lessons to be learned,” Benevides said. “In the end, they’ve got God-given ability. Just go play. Just understand that if you play fast, do things as quickly as you can to the best of your ability, good things are going to occur. If we have 12 guys running to the football, good things will come.”

Jennings, like Masoli, is capable of buying time with his legs, if need be. He rushed for a career-high 57 yards against Montreal.

“What these guys are doing so well, in Jennings and Masoli, is they extend plays but their eyes are always downfield,” Sherritt said. “That’s what’s scary. Jennings is only going to run when it’s his last option.

“We’re aware of where he’s going but we’ve got to stay in coverage the whole time because if you get too antsy to come off on him he’ll make you pay.”

———

B.C. (1-0) at EDMONTON (1-1)

Friday, Commonwealth Stadium

WILLIS RETURNS — Defensive end Odell Willis, who has big career sack totals (87) and a bigger personality, faces the Esks for the first time since being traded last February. The self-proclaimed Mayor of Commonwealth, who spent five seasons in Edmonton, was dealt to Ottawa and then to B.C. during the off-season.

REUNION — The Lions have nine former Eskimos on the roster with Willis, Garry Peters, Marcell Young, Cory Watson, Anthony Orange, Otha Foster, Mike Benson, Joel Figueroa and Chris Greaves. Then, there’s GM Ed Hervey.

FIREWORKS — Edmonton swept the Lions in three high-scoring meetings in 2017. The Eskimos prevailed 30-27 and 37-26 before winning 35-29 in OT at B.C. Place on Oct. 21, a game in which they scored 22 consecutive points.

DUAL THREAT — Derel Walker and Duke Williams are first and second in CFL receiving yardage. Walker has 14 receptions for 232 yards and Williams has eight catches for 179 yards.

TOUGH CROWD — The Lions have lost five straight games in Edmonton dating back to July 2013.

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