Edmonton Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo indicated that he wants star running back James Wilder Jr. to do a better job of keeping a level head on the field.
“James knows that he’s gotta keep his composure. If he’s not on the field, it hurts us,” said Elizondo. The first-year head coach also suggested that Wilder Jr. acted out because he felt he’d been the recipient of some hits that should have been penalized.
Wilder Jr. tackled linebacker Simoni Lawrence during Edmonton’s loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this past weekend. A brawl ensued following the tackle, resulting in six penalties and the ejections of Edmonton defensive back Jonathan Rose and Hamilton strong-side linebacker Kameron Kelly.
“We need to be more mature. Sometimes helping a teammate means pulling him back and not jumping in and making the fight worse,” said Elizondo. “It’s disappointing. We gotta be better as a team of — when those tempers flare — maintaining our composure and our poise and we didn’t do that.”
Despite his lapse in judgement, Elizondo spoke in support of Wilder Jr. who he feels has far surpassed expectations over the course of his first season in Edmonton.
“I’m pleased with James in so many different areas, not only what he does on the field — his running style, his blocking ability — but his leadership and the presence of who he is and bringing the energy. It’s exactly the opposite of everything we had heard about James Wilder before we brought him in. He’s been a true pro and a really good leader for us.”
The former CFL Most Outstanding Rookie has started all ten games for the Elks this season, recording 133 carries for 714 yards and two touchdowns. He has also been productive as a receiver with 27 catches for 224 yards and one score.
Wilder Jr. did not practice this week due to an ankle injury, though Elizondo indicated that his status is improving. In the event that he is unable to play, rookie Walter Fletcher is expected to take over the starting role at running back.
Fletcher has recorded 14 carries for 44 yards in spot duty this season. He has yet to make his first career CFL start, though he has dressed for seven games behind James Wilder Jr. in a backup role.
Edmonton may also need to make some changes to their receiving corps as Derel Walker was a limited participant in practice due to a hip/groin issue and Greg Ellingson did not practice due to a hip problem. Rookie quarterback Taylor Cornelius will get the start despite the recent addition of Nick Arbuckle via trade from the Toronto Argonauts.
The Elks (2-8) are slated to host the Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-4) on Friday night in what will be the team’s final home game of the season. Edmonton is currently 0-6 at Commonwealth Stadium and is looking to avoid going winless at home for the first time in club history.