Eskimos defence walking 'fine' line of aggression
VANCOUVER, B.C. — If nothing else, at least a bye in the schedule last week meant no Edmonton Eskimos’ names appeared on the Canadian Football League’s latest player discipline list.
A break from playing last week also guaranteed a rest for the pocketbook of defensive end Nick Usher, who has been fined each of the previous two games.
Their last time out, both he and teammate Money Hunter were fined for leading with the crown of the helmet in a hit to the head against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
And the week before that, Usher was fined for committing the same offence to ex-Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly on the way to a 39-23 win in their first meeting of the season against the B.C. Lions.
A big part of Edmonton’s success came from pressuring Reilly to the tune of seven sacks and another six roughing the passer calls.
“We got stuck in the rut of trying to drop back the entire game and became pretty one-dimensional, and that makes it easier on the defence,” said Reilly, who isn’t looking to become a pin cushion for Edmonton’s pass rush in Thursday’s rematch at BC Place (8 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED). “We don’t want to make anything easy on them, they’re certainly not going to make anything easy on us.”
Usher comes into the game tied for the team lead with two sacks, both of which came against Reilly. And, chances are, the Eskimos front seven has more in store for the former face of their franchise.
“We’ve got to see. I’m not a dude to put it all out there on the table, but we’ll see how it goes,” Usher said. “We’ve been practising really hard and I know they have too, they want this one. It’s a big game in the West, a big game for us so if we can get away with it early, that’d be good.”
Unlike last time, when Reilly led the Lions offence to a 17-3 lead just 20 minutes in.
And while the Eskimos defence was just as raring to go, coming up with a sack by Vontae Diggs on B.C.’s opening snap, the penalty problems started just as soon.
“For some guys, it’s between three and four years of not being able to touch him,” Eskimos defensive line coach Demetrious Maxie said of Reilly, who was hands-off in Eskimos practices. “For those who have been here for a long time, I said, ‘Now this is the opportunity to let him know who you are and what we do on defence, because we’ve been holding back.’
“He’s a great quarterback, we want to rattle him up a little bit and get him out of his calm posture and put some heat on him.”
With the spotlight shining squarely on player safety, the trick is learning how to play within the new roughness rules, while not losing their aggressive edge.
“The roughness of the passer, I believe that we got the end of the stick with that,” said Maxie, a former all-star defensive lineman, himself, who was as aggressive and physical as they came during his 13 CFL seasons. “They hit our quarterback late a few times late in the game and they didn’t throw any flags.
“So it was the heat of the moment at the beginning of the game, trying to set the tone of the game and we got the short end of the stick. And they know we’re aggressive: We’re aggressive with our blitz; we’re aggressive with our rush and a lot of people are talking about that.”
Including the league, who is making no secret of fining head hits, so far this year.
“We don’t want to take away their aggression, these boys are doing such a great job,” Maxie said. “We’ve just got to be smarter about our finish.”
Not to mention finances, in some cases.
“I don’t want any more money to get taken out, either,” said Usher, who faces possible suspension should he be fined a third time. “I’m never trying to injure anybody or anything like that in a game, but it’s just the way I play. I’m an aggressive guy and it’s just like that sometimes. To be honest, I’m going to still play the game how it’s supposed to be played.
“Sometimes it’s one step, sometimes it’s two steps and sometimes it just all feels the same. I’ve got to be smarter as a player.”
In and out: LG Jacob Ruby is back after sitting out last week with injury, which sends OL Travis Bond to the practice squad … LB Chris Mulumba-Tshimanga comes in, trading places on the six-game injured list with LB Blair Smith … DE Alex Bazzie has been activated from the one-game injured list for the first time this season, while rookie WR Shai Ross moves to the practice roster.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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