EDMONTON – Edmonton Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly is 4-0.
He’s also a promise breaker.
The six-foot-three pivot, coming off a 4-14 season of scrambling for his life out of a collapsing pocket, promised at the start of this campaign that his days of leading the team in rushing were over.
Four weeks later, the Eskimos are undefeated and sit atop the CFL west heading into Thursday’s clash of unbeatens against the 3-0 Calgary Stampeders.
Reilly leads the Eskimos in rushing with 24 carries for 199 yards, good for sixth overall in the CFL.
What about your promise Mike?
“Hah!” he snorted after practice Wednesday. “I also said I want to win, too.”
The numbers, he said, are misleading.
“We’re not basing our offence around (my running). It’s just a reaction to what the defences are doing,” he said. “If they’re going to bring pressure on the edges and the middle is open, you’ve got to take advantage of it. If they’re going to drop everybody off and not account for the quarterback you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
It’s not that Reilly isn’t getting help.
Running back John White, after two starts, is just eights yard back (191 yards on 33 carries) and should soon overtake Reilly.
The five-foot-eight sparkplug has also done what head coach Chris Jones has demanded above all of his running backs: throw blocks and stand up defenders to protect Reilly.
In Edmonton’s 26-3 win last week over Winnipeg, Reilly was a miracle worker, twice ducking out of sure sacks to scramble for big gains and keep drives alive.
He credits some of that to bulking up in the off-season, adding 20 pounds to reach his current weight of 225.
“I feel like my speed is the same. I feel like my strength is definitely higher,” said Reilly.
“I feel like it’s harder for guys to tackle me. If they’re just going to stick an arm out it’s not going to bring me down as easily.”
Last year, he ran 84 times for 709 yards to lead the Eskimos and finish fifth overall in league rushing.
Much of that was out of desperation and the price was multiple shots, blindside shivers, sternum blows, and one particularly vicious battering ram helmet to helmet hit against Toronto that left him woozy.
He’ll have his hands full against the Stampeders’ defence. Led by end Charleston Hughes and his three sacks, the defence has allowed just 30 points and one touchdown in three games. Hughes also leads the league in forced fumbles at three.
The Stamps are allowing just 71 yards a game rushing, best in the league.
In the momentum-changing giveaway-takeaway category, Calgary is plus-four, good for second place but far behind Edmonton’s league leading plus-10.
Edmonton’s defence has also been on a roll – literally and figuratively – having recorded a league-best 18 sacks, including five from defensive tackle Almondo Sewell.
Sewell said he expects Thursday’s game will be a violent chess match with Edmonton’s stunting defence going against a physical yet tricky Calgary O-line.
“They give you so many variations, like slide protection or whatever they do, you can never get a good guess on exactly what they’re doing,” said Sewell.
Edmonton is second to Calgary, allowing just 14.5 points a game.
Sewell has also started a team trend of celebrating quarterback takedowns with a somersault.
“It (the tumbling) kind of caught on a little bit. We were trying to figure something to do as a team this year so we’re all doin’ it,” he said.
Notes: The Stampeders have placed running back Jon Cornish on the six-game injury list. The CFL’s most outstanding player in 2013 is still recovering from a concussion sustained in the season opener when he was drilled in a flying clothesline tackle by Montreal’s Kyries Hebert.