Eskimos ready, willing and Gable for playoffs with return of 1,000-yard rusher
If the Edmonton Eskimos needed 1,001 reasons to feel good about the 2019 Canadian Footaball League playoffs, then they got them with the return of C.J. Gable to the lineup.
After sitting out the past three weeks of the regular season since suffering a knee injury on the road against the top-ranked Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Eskimos running back is back practising with the first team as they prepare for Sunday’s East Division semifinal against the Montreal Alouettes.
“I feel really good now, I feel as healthy as I’ve been since I started and I’m just ready to play,” said the six-foot, 219-pound Southern California product, who became the first Eskimos running back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the ground since Mike Pringle in 2003-04.
While he was at 997 yards when he went down, a review by the CFL stats department bumped him to 1,001 yards and two touchdowns on 205 carries in 14 games this year, to go with 417 more yards and another touchdown on 53 catches.
While the last two years have been his most productive of his eight-year career, those receiving numbers were second only to the 600 yards he posted as a rookie in 2013.
“It was really hard not to go out there and battle with my teammates,” said Gable, whose replacement, Shaq Cooper, has 352 yards and two touchdowns on 65 carries in five games of work this season, to go with 112 more yards on 15 catches. “But I have faith in Shaq and everyone else did and he went out there and did his job.
“So it isn’t like we missed a beat at the running back position. I’m happy that he went out there and did great.”
The combination of Gable’s physically imposing frame and Cooper, a smaller, shiftier back, could offer the Eskimos an interesting one-two punch out of the backfield if, as history serves, the team can once again find a way to get two running backs in the lineup for the playoffs.
“It’s a possibility, we have a lot of different scenarios we can play with with this roster,” Maas said. “Obviously, doing that is something that I don’t think they’d be shocked if it happened, but ultimately we’ve got to look and see what’s best for our roster.”
Gable is, Maas pointed out, the starting running back for a reason.
“He’s just a big, tough, physical running back, that’s what he is,” Maas said. “He’s upwards of 225-230 (pounds) and he doesn’t go down easy, he brings it on every carry. You don’t see him ripping off 50-, 60-yard runs, when he accumulates yardage, they’re after-contact yards or they’re five yards and a pile of dust yards.
“So he’s going to look for contact and be the hammer, not the nail too often. But he also has good feet too, he can make you miss in space.”
It was a necessary three weeks of rest for Gable, with the payoff coming in the form of a rejuvenated rusher ready for a push in the playoffs.
“I always say it, our starters will play, as long as they’re healthy and as long as they’re capable and C.J., every year, just the way he plays he’s not going to be able to be available to you every week and we understand that,” Maas said. “And he’s not young, as a running back, he’s a little bit older than a lot of the running backs in our league but when he’s healthy he’s as good as anybody.
“And when he’s not, when he’s nicked up, we like to be able to rest him because we have other guys like Shaq that are available to us, that are different.
A handful of Eskimos were named West Division all-stars Wednesday, including middle linebacker Larry Dean, receiver Greg Ellingson, right guard Matt O’Donnell and defensive tackles Mike Moore and Almondo Sewell.
For Sewell, it’s his seventh divisional all-star nod after earning six in a row from 2012-17, which also included five CFL all-star honours.
Fellow defensive tackle Moore led the Eskimos with nine sacks, contributing to their CFL co-leading 56 on the season.
Despite missing one-third of the season with a knee injury, O’Donnell was an anchor on an Eskimos offensive line that surrendered a league-low 25 sacks on the season, while helping running back C.J. Gable earn back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in rushing.
Dean led the Eskimos and finished fifth overall with 89 total tackles, while Ellingson posted a team-high 86 catches for 1,170 yards to reach quadruple digits in receiving for the fifth straight season.
“It’s a nice accolade to have to add to the resume,” said Ellingson, who was an East Division the past three seasons with the Ottawa RedBlacks. “All the hard work that you put out there over the year and all the adversity you’ve faced, it kind of gives you a little award at the end of the year but I’ll pat myself on the back after the season’s over and we accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish because right now we’re facing Montreal and making sure we get a win.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge