EDMONTON — Kyle Koch pondered the question for a moment: how different is the Edmonton Eskimos dressing room this week, after two straight losses, compared to Week 5 when they were 5-0?
“Ah, there’s not too much difference,” said the veteran offensive lineman. “Everyone’s still pretty upbeat. You have to remember we went from 5-0 to 5-2, the world’s not crumbling. We played a bad game (in Montreal). We just have to get ready to win a game this week.”
After going unbeaten in their first five games the Eskimos lost 28-16 in Winnipeg and 27-4 in Montreal. They return to the comfort of Commonwealth Stadium where they are 3-0 this season and meet the 1-6 B.C. Lions today.
For the surprising Eskimos the next game is crucial not only to end the losing streak but to ensure they’re at least tied for first in the West Division with the Calgary Stampeders going into the bye week.
It is, said Koch and several other Eskimos, still about getting two big points.
“When we were 4-0 it wasn’t about going to 5-0, it was about taking those two points every week,” said Koch. “Now we’re 5-2 it’s still about taking those two points, especially from a team in your division.
“We’re tied for first, so the world isn’t crumbling.”
The world isn’t, but the Eskimos receiving corps is. All four starters — Fred Stamps (abdominal surgery) Adarius Bowman (cracked ribs), Jason Barnes (cracked ribs) and Marcus Henry (concussion) — are injured and only Bowman has a slight chance of playing Friday.
Edmonton brought in two new receivers this week — Dobson Collins, a recent cut by the Lions, and Prechae Rodriquez, released by Montreal after training camp — and with both expected to play Friday the Eskimos will have a reduced playbook available.
That will likely mean more emphasis on the running game that had been so good early in the season but was a disaster in Montreal, where the Eskimos finished with minus one-yard rushing on six carries.
“We just had a rough night, it happens sometimes,” said running back Jerome Messam, who carried four times for minus three yards and a fumble.
“It was non-existent,” Calvin McCarty, who carried twice for one yard, said of the run game. “We didn’t run the ball well, we didn’t execute the run plays we did run.”
The lack of a run game allowed the Montreal defence to focus on quarterback Ricky Ray, who was sacked six times.
“That’s definitely not going to get it done,” Ray said of the non-existent running game. “We have to get back to controlling the line of scrimmage and that means being balanced (on offence). …
“Early in the season we were getting good play all around offensively. That’s what we have to get back to, being good with the run, good with the pass, making some big plays, protecting the football, doing all those good things we were doing early.”
Through their five wins the Eskimos had a balanced offence, something Lions coach Wally Buono will be watching for on Friday.
“You’ve got to try to make sure that you don’t give up the big play and this is where Ricky Ray can really hurt you,” Buono said.
Even in Edmonton’s loss in Winnipeg they ran the ball 18 times for 87 yards.
“Up until Montreal we’ve been fairly balanced, about 40 per cent run,” said head coach Kavis Reed. “I anticipate we’ll continue to be balanced. We have to have a run game to improve our protection, in order to maintain the time of possession we’ve enjoyed the first five games.”
His message to his players this week was not to panic, and “not let any external situations dictate how we handle our business. We’re probably going to lose a few more (games), so we have to make sure our temperament stays the same.”
The offensive line juggling also continued. Junius Coston (knee) is gone for six to eight weeks, Greg Wojt is still dealing with a knee injury from the Montreal game and veteran Cliff Washburn was released. Brian Ramsey has been working with the first team and newcomers Devin Tyler and Chris Patrick, signed this week, are expected to be the roster. DB Rod Williams’s hamstring has kept him out of practice this week and Wopamo Osaisai moves from the practice roster to replace him.
Among the many other changes this week, the Eskimos released kick returner Brandon James and linebacker Rico McCoy and signed kicker returner/receiver Ryan Grice-Mullen and offensive lineman Chris Patrick.