The Edmonton Eskimos’ bid to stay perfect in 2017 will be put to the test Friday against the desperate, winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats, given Edmonton must do it while dealing with a tsunami of injuries that has sidelined 15 starters.
This week they’ll take to the field with a new kicker, a new long snapper and a new starting running back.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like it,” Eskimo head coach Jason Maas told reporters Thursday after a walk-through practice at Commonwealth Stadium.
“We’ve asked the questions why and can’t find an answer, so it’s just next man up and be ready to go.”
The Esks have 18 players on the six-game injury list and two on the one-game. Middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt and first-string running back John White are done for the year and receiver Adarius Bowman is on the shelf with a hamstring injury.
They lost six players alone in last week’s 37-26 win over the B.C. Lions, including kicker Sean Whyte, long snapper Ryan King, safety Neil King, and starting running back Travon Van.
Van took over after White went down with a season-ending knee injury. LaDarius Perkins, a five-foot-eight high-speed cannonball coming off the practice roster, will now get his shot in the backfield.
“I’m just ready to get out there and get going,” said Perkins. “I’m just here to fill in and do what I have to do.”
Hugh O’Neill, who kicked for Edmonton for a couple of years until he was cut in early 2015, was signed last week just before Whyte went down against B.C. with an apparent hip injury.
O’Neill has been out of the game for a year, but has been practising his kicks four times a week and working on his web development business while waiting for the phone to ring.
“It’s been a smooth transition so far,” said O’Neill. “On a team like this you’ve just gotta come in, be solid, do your job, trust the guys around you and try to get that rhythm try to get back into game speed.”
Levi Steinhauer takes over for Ryan King at long snapper.
On paper, Friday’s game is a gruesome mismatch between two teams that bookend the CFL – Edmonton on top at 5-0, Hamilton at 0-5 and coming off an epic soul-sucking 60-1 beatdown at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders last week.
The Ticats have just five offensive TDs this season and are averaging just 18 points a game while giving up a league-worst 40.2 points per game. They’re also managing a spate of injuries, including six players in the defensive backfield.
The team stayed in Calgary this week, and one practice was marred by a pier six brawl between the offence and defence.
The Ticats also hired June Jones as an assistant coach on Wednesday. Jones has more than three decades of experience in NCAA, the NFL and CFL.
On the plus side, they’re just four points out of a playoff spot and were set to beat Edmonton two weeks ago until Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly engineered a last minute 75-yard touchdown drive for a nailbiter 31-28 win.
Reilly was asked how a team comes back from a 60-1 loss.
“I’m sure that they just flush it,” he said.
“You just kind of let that one go because it’s a one-off.”
He said the record doesn’t reflect a Hamilton team that has played well against some of the top CFL teams so far in 2017.
“That’s what we’re expecting: a hard-fought football game,” said Reilly.