Unamba and Orange back to bolster Eskimos secondary
If the Edmonton Eskimos weren’t already the most penalized team in the Canadian Football League, they would certainly have attracted the attention of officials this week.
After all, it’s entirely unfair, if not downright scandalous, that the team that has allowed the fewest points and the fewest yards on the season is getting a couple of big-time reinforcements back in off the six-game injured list.
They’re coming in the form of coverage linebacker Don Unamba and cornerback Anthony Orange, a pair of off-season free-agent acquisitions and 2018 CFL all-stars, who were both injured in the season opener against the Montreal Alouettes.
But they’ve done their time and are back to bolster an already stalwart secondary when the Eskimos take on the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday (8 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED).
“That’s what we talked about at the beginning of the year, when we had the injuries that we had, with guys having to step in and play for them, in the second-third and last third of the season we are going to be very deep,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas. “Because our guys that have had to play over the first seven weeks are not the guys that we had penciled in at the beginning, so when the guys come back and if they can hold those jobs, we’re just going to be an ultimate deep team.
“And that’s what you’re seeing this week. Brian Walker and Tyquwan Glass played at a very high level, if you ask me, but now Don and Anthony Orange are coming back and those guys have proven through the course of their career that they’re very high-level players. So we’ve got a great problem right now, and that’s with an abundance of players that can play for us.”
DON OF NEW DAY
Unamba wasted no time in the short time he was on the field with the Eskimos early on, taking the very first snap of the pre-season back 28 yards on an interception return to the red zone against the B.C. Lions.
Talk about setting the tone.
“When I did that I was coming in from the off-season, so it’s just football and I’m going to continue to do what I do: Play fast, make my reads and make plays,” said Unamba. “I’m fresh, I feel good.
“I’m pretty excited about this one, it feels like my first game. It’s been a while since I played football.”
In the meantime, the Eskimos managed to allow a league-low 18.0 points per game and an incredible 232 net yards of offence – no other team is below the 300-yard threshold.
“Everybody’s been buying into what we’re doing back there,” Unamba said. “We take details and study when we’re in our meetings. Walker came in and just filled right in for me. It’s the same thing now, I’m going to take his place and keep rolling with the punches and making my keys, the same thing he was doing. The next-man-up mentality.”
It’s exactly what he expected a green and gold clad Phillip Lolley co-ordinated defence would look like.
“Oh, yeah. I was with Phil in Hamilton a couple years ago,” Unamba said. “So I already know what he brings to the table and how he was going to be. So it’s not a surprise to me to see the defence flying around like that.
“And he’s not going to accept nothing less.”
RHYMES WITH ANTHONY
Orange is back on the hot corner after bearing witness to some staunch defence by his teammates over the past month and a half.
“Everybody’s making plays. I don’t know how many interceptions we’ve got, but all the DBs have one,” said Orange, who managed to nab himself one on opening day before going down. “So if we can just build on that, we’ll be good.”
Edmonton’s eight interceptions has them tied for fourth, with the aforementioned Glass the only player in green and gold to have two, while Walker, Money Hunter, Josh Johnson, Jordan Hoover, and injured defensive halfback Forrest Hightower round out the list.
And they’ve also accounted for their fair share of coverage sacks too, as the Eskimos also lead the league with 26 quarterback takedowns.
“I’m hoping that our D-line continues to eat it up and get those sacks,” Orange said. “And hopefully I’ll get some picks.”
In and out: Aside from Unamba and Orange in off the six-game IL, the Eskimos also had WR Greg Ellingson and LB Jonathan Walton back from the one-game IL, while C David Beard, who left Saturday’s game early, was back practising Tuesday. P Hugh O’Neill, also injured against Calgary, finished out the game but was absent as practice opened on Week 9.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge