Eskimos ground game leaning on Cooper to close out season
C.J. Gable will have to wait until next week to add to his 997 rushing yards.
If he ends up getting the chance at all.
Sitting out Saturday’s game against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders with a knee injury sustained against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 4, the Edmonton Eskimos running back is tantalizingly close to becoming their first player since Mike Pringle in 2003-04 to record back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards on the ground.
But the Canadian Football League is currently conducting a review of all of Gable’s touches on the season to see if anything was missed that might affect his total. And, reading between the lines, that sounds a lot like he could be done for the year and won’t be dressing for next week’s regular-season finale in Regina, either.
If that’s the case, then backup Shaq Cooper better plan on shouldering the load for the long-term in an Eskimos ground game that is being counted on this week to keep Trevor Harris’s offence from becoming one-dimensional in the quarterback’s return from an arm injury.
“It’s a pleasure to have Trevor get back, this offence gets going,” said Cooper, who is making his second start in a row and third of the season while averaging 111 rushing yards a game. “It’s just about preparing yourself and being ready when your number gets called. I just go out there, enjoy the game and try to take advantage of every opportunity I get.
“That’s what it’s about. I don’t get too many opportunities, just make the best of them.”
Depending on Gable’s prognosis in the coming days, Cooper could end up getting more.
“I prepare every week like I’m going to be the starter because you never know when your number’s going to get called,” said the five-foot-10, 190-pound Fort Hays State product. “They say when you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. I’ve been preparing for this moment forever. I’m ready.
“I can show the league, I can show my coaches they can believe in me and trust me and I can show everybody what I can do against good teams.”
He’s been the workhorse in the Eskimos backfield all season long, and the last thing anyone wants to see is Gable put out to pasture prematurely.
Aside from blocking in Edmonton’s league-leading pass protection, Gable was second in rushing yards only to Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris, whose statistics on the season will forever have an asterisk after being caught using performance enhancers.
“C.J., he’s great. Taking it one day at a time and I think he’ll be ready for playoffs or maybe next week,” Cooper said. “But he’s got his head high and I think he’s good. It is (a tough time in the season to get hurt) but God’s with him and I know he’s a strong guy, he’ll bounce back.”
It’s the unstoppable force meets the immovable object Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, when the Roughriders’ league-leading sack attack comes up against the top pass protection unit around.
Saskatchewan comes in with 53 sacks in 16 games on the year, three ahead of an Eskimos defence that led in that very department up until recently. On the flip side, Edmonton has surrendered a league-low 22 sacks, followed by Saskatchewan in a distant second with 31 sacks allowed.
Then again, the Eskimos have yet to face CFL sack leader Charleston Hughes.
“It’s the same old story, really. Nothing changes,” said Eskimos centre David Beard, who has stood tall in his first full season as a starter. “Charleston’s a great player and they do have some great D-linemen in their front seven. But nothing changes, our job is our job.”
If he sounds unfazed, it’s because he and the rest of the Eskimos offensive linemen come up against a talented crew across the board along the other side of scrimmage each day in practice.
“It’s a treat having our guys to go up against in practice. You couldn’t ask for a better group,” said the six-foot-five, 327-pound U of A Golden Bears product out of Sherwood Park. “It’s no shortage of talent on our end either, so we’re happy to practice against these guys so we can be prepared for them too.”
And they’ve been doing so all week in front of quarterback Trevor Harris, who is returning from an injury to his throwing arm that forced him to miss the last four games.
“We’re happy to have Trevor back, and that’s no slight to Logan (Kilgore), he did a great job,” Beard said. “I think part of the excitement is just seeing how excited Trevor is too.”
In and out: QB Trevor Harris, LB Maxime Rouyer and WR Tevaun Smith have been activated, while QB Troy Williams, QB Jeremiah Briscoe, FB Peter Cender and WR Diego Viamontes have been placed on the practice roster.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge