Resurgent DL Almondo Sewell to lead Eskimos against archrival Stamps

Defensive lineman Almondo Sewell had just one quarterback sack for the Edmonton Eskimos through the first 11 games of the CFL season, and that came in the season opener.

A dramatic decline from 2016, when he recorded 11 sacks in 18 games.

Then, like a sleeping giant being awaken, the six-foot-four, 288-pound, seven-year veteran found his legs and his power and the “old” Almondo was back. He has recorded a sack in five straight games, a statistic he says is due mostly to being healthy.

The Eskimos Most Outstanding defensive player in 2016 and a West Division all-star for a fifth consecutive season, the Jamaica native had trouble getting to quarterbacks through most of the year because he just wasn’t physically up to it.

“I’m a power guy so half my moves I couldn’t do,” he said this week as the Eskimos prepared for Saturday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders. “Every time I used (a move) my ribs would start hurting so I was staying away from it. But I can finally do it all now, go full speed all the time.”

Which is great news for the Eskimos as they seek a fourth straight win to keep alive their hopes of finishing second in the West.

Sewell’s re-emergence as a serious pressure presence in the middle, along with linemate Euclid Cummings, has been a key factor to the Eskimos snapping their mid-season six-game losing streak.

“They’re both very physical, athletic big men and they complement each other very well,” head coach Jason Maas said. “That middle pressure, it’s extremely important. You have two guys who can race off the edge and do different things and people are always worried about that.

“But really it’s the two guys in the middle who can push the pocket so the quarterback doesn’t feel comfortable they can usually create a lot of havoc inside and let the two guys on the outside get the one-on-one matchups and win them.”

That’s not such an easy task against the 13-2-1 Stampeders, who top the West Division standings again and are on track to allow the fewest sacks in the CFL (21) for the fifth straight season.

“Their offensive line and head coach, they work hand in hand, they do a bunch of play action, freezes everybody and the ball is gone in probably 1.5 seconds,” said Sewell. “Soon as (quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell) gets to throwing the ball everybody has to be in the right place at the right time. You see teams who beat them, they make few mistakes. They’re always on them, receivers are all covered.”

Even though Mitchell gets his passes off in lightning-quick time, Sewell said the Eskimos still have to try to get pressure on him.

“You don’t get (to Mitchell) a lot of times, but doesn’t mean you slow down because there’s going to be that one time you’re supposed to go fast, you slow down and miss a sack. Could be a game-changing moment right there.”

And it’s that play in the trenches, especially against a Calgary team that also features a power running game with Jerome Messam, that could be pivotal for Edmonton.

“You have to get your big guys going inside” Sewell said, and that means he and Cummings, who has also been nicked up and missed two games in mid-season.

“Euclid has just got pure pass-rushing technique. Been a while since we’ve had one of those. He’s a pass rusher and I know he’s going to flush some things to me and I’m going to flush some plays to him so it works well.”

The Eskimos, who have running back C.J. Gable back in the lineup after missing last weekend’s overtime win over the B.C. Lions, have their eyes focused on four more wins.

“We’re saying we have to win four in a row. . .. that will get us to the Grey Cup,” said Sewell. “But right now this is like a momentum thing for us. Beat Calgary, we keep our momentum going, still have that home field advantage opportunity.”

Edmonton will be without linebacker Ken Ladner. Maas said he’s been dealing with “little things” that got to a point where he figured it’s in Ladner’s best interests to sit out this game.

Calgary will be without their leading receiver, Marquay McDaniel for the second straight game.