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CFLBig-name Eskimos not producing

Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 | 02:01 PM

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Odell Willis, right, is tied with Almondo Sewell, left, for the Eskimos' team lead with three sacks, but Willis has the talent to do more. (Darryl/DyckCanadian Press) Odell Willis, right, is tied with Almondo Sewell, left, for the Eskimos' team lead with three sacks, but Willis has the talent to do more. (Darryl/DyckCanadian Press)

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With a third of its season in the books, Edmonton finds itself in last place in the CFL's West Division with a 1-5 record. Until the Eskimos get stronger along the line of scrimmage, they will continue to struggle.
With a third of their season in the books, the Edmonton Eskimos find themselves in last place in the CFL's West Division with a 1-5 record entering their bye week.

When a team is struggling to win games, changes are certain to come, and often it doesn't take much to turn things around. But until the Eskimos get stronger along the line of scrimmage, they will have a hard time improving.

Edmonton's 30-29 loss at home against Hamilton last week could be blamed on Grant Shaw's 50-yard field-goal miss in the final seconds, but the real reason the Eskimos have struggled to consistently execute is because the foundation of their team is weak.

O-line young, inexperienced

One of the big question marks heading into the year was how well the young offensive line would come together. Three of the unit's starting five are in their first CFL season, and pairing an inexperienced quarterback with an inexperienced offensive line is a risky combination.

Mike Reilly attempted to stay upbeat after last week's loss by suggesting to the media that the linemen in front of him have remained confident. But confidence has very little to do with the Edmonton offence's inability to sustain drives. Of greater concern is the line's inability to pick up defensive blitzes.

Although the line has given up only 14 sacks this season, there was a defender in Reilly's face on almost every play during the Hamilton game, and the Ticats' defensive line is average at best.

Edmonton has also struggled to establish a rushing attack, with Hugh Charles averaging only 35 yards on the ground in the team's five losses.

In spite of the poor play, the coaching staff has remained patient, recognizing that this group needs game experience. But after six weeks, it's definitely time to find some players who have more experience and skill. 

Big names on D not performing

I can't stand players who make a career out of hype rather than performance. These are the guys who do very little on the field other than perform well-choreographed celebration dances meant to bring attention to themselves. Last season I criticized Calgary defensive lineman Stevie Baggs for underperforming, and this year I'm calling out Edmonton's Odell Willis and Marcus Howard.

I've mentioned Willis a few times in my columns this season, and I still feel like he has the tools to be a dominant player if he wants to. But I continue to see a lack of effort and a lack of results. Unfortunately for the Eskimos, it looks like his sloppy play is contagious, because now Howard is not playing much better than Willis.

For Edmonton to have success, these two players need to make quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket, and, simply said, they are not getting this done. Both guys have gotten into the habit of thinking "close is good enough." But they don't get paid to almost make a few plays. They were given large contracts this year to affect every play on defence.

Willis and Howard combined for four defensive tackles and one sack against Hamilton. (Reality Check: no one blocked Willis on his sack, and yet he predictably celebrated like he had done something spectacular.) To make matters worse, they are doing an even poorer job of stopping the run. Currently Edmonton ranks last in the West in rushing yards allowed.

The first Hamilton touchdown was rushed in from the 8-yard line. Both Howard and Willis were driven back on the play to the goal line like they were playing on skates. Willis was eventually thrown into the goal post. That is simply embarrassing play by two of Edmonton's supposed top defenders.

Great players are called on to make plays at critical times in the game. At 12:38 of the fourth quarter, after the Eskimos had just scored on a nice long drive to bring the game within five points, Hamilton found itself in a second-and-long situation. The result? No pressure off the edge, allowing Greg Ellingson to score a major that made it a 12-point game.

At this point in the year, I would reduce Willis's playing time, like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did in 2011. That would send a clear message to Howard that, if his play doesn't improve, the same fate would be in store for him.

Either these two players start performing, or Edmonton should not waste any time in replacing them with players who can get the job done.


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