EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos are a different team with Marcus Howard in the lineup.
Unfortunately, things look like they’re going to stay the same for the next little while, at least.
The team’s top pass rusher reaggravated a hamstring injury midway through Saturday’s 19-18 loss to the first-place B.C. Lions.
Up to that point, the Eskimos were leading 15-9, and were 3-1 heading in whenever Howard was healthy. But, following Saturday’s second-half letdown, the Eskimos have amassed just a 2-6 record since.
“That’s real disappointing,” said Howard, who has left early in both games against the Lions this season because of the injury. “The team, it doesn’t revolve around me, but I know that I at least help the defence out a lot with my presence, just being out there.”
While Howard has just one sack in the five games he’s played this season, his reputation after leading the Eskimos with 11 sacks in 13 games last season has led to a lot more focus by opposing pass protectors this year.
And it’s freed up Howard’s fellow defensive linemen, like Ted Laurent and Almondo Sewell, who’s nine combined sacks contributed to sharing the league lead with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with 26 heading into last weekend’s slate.
But the pace has slowed steadily in his absence.
And not only his, but Laurent’s, Julius Williams, Etienne Legare’s, Lee Robinson’s Justin Capicciotti’s and anyone else who is currently injured on an Eskimos D-line that has been decimated by injury all season long.
“To lose Marcus Howard early in the game, it shortened our rotation,” said Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman. “He’s a special player, but adversity is a part of football. It’s a part of life. You fight your way through it.
“That’s something you can’t control, so we go back to work and I thought our defence played very hard the second half without him. I think you see what a difference he makes in the lineup, but you also see what happens in a game when you lose part of your rotation.”
Which allowed the Lions to go back and do what they do best as a big, physical offensive line that gives their skilled players the time and space to work.
The Eskimos, meanwhile, are left with a void to fill on their defensive line in time for this Friday’s rivalry game against the Calgary Stampeders.
“I want to be out there, it’s just one of those things that just takes time,” said Howard. “I thought it was enough time, but obviously it was not.
“I wouldn’t say it was too early (to come back), the game plan was for me to go in there and play a couple of snaps and not open it up.”
But that was like asking a wild animal to remain in an open cage.
“As a pass rusher, when I’ve got to go get him, I try to go get him,” said Howard. “If I don’t go get him, he’ll probably throw a touchdown.”
Which Lions quarterback Travis Lulay did on Saturday, managing a touchdown pass in his 23rd consecutive regular-season game, but not until the Howard-less second half.
“It’s tough, man. We lost the ball game,” Howard said. “We’ve just got to play better as a whole team.”
IN AND OUT: Capicciotti limped to the locker-room following Saturday’s game, while SB Cary Koch suffered a collarbone injury. Both are expected to miss Friday’s game.
By: BY GERRY MODDEJONGE
Source: EDMONTON SUN