Answers looming in Lions' den?

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Random thoughts and observations as the Edmonton Eskimos prepare to battle the B.C. Lions tomorrow in Vancouver.

- Are the Eskimos for real this season?

At 4-2 in the West Division entering tomorrow's tilt at B.C. Place (8:30 p.m. MT, CHED, TSN), the Green and Gold are ranked as the second-best team in the league by many experts.

But has this team really turned the corner from two straight frustrating campaigns?

While the Esks get full marks for eight points considering the significant injuries this summer, it must be pointed out they have had the benefit of playing one game against the hapless Hamilton Tiger-Cats and two games against a suspect Toronto Argos club.

That is why this upcoming game in Vancouver will answer the question about whether the Esks are for real and a legitimate contender for first place in the West Division in August.

Consider the obstacles the Esks have to overcome this week:

- Winning in B.C. Place for the first time since the 2005 Grey Cup.

- Beating a divisional opponent on the road. (It hasn't happened this year).

- Stopping a motivated Lions crew after a rare players-only meeting on Monday.

- What is going to replace the emotional high this week for the Eskimos after Jason Tucker provided it last week?

That is a question being asked around the Eskimos compound at Commonwealth Stadium.

Head coach Danny Maciocia is hoping a true hunger will do the job.

"There is no greater satisfaction than going into someone else's backyard and winning a football game," said Maciocia.

Edmonton's offensive line isn't getting enough credit for the club's four wins.

After giving up the second-most sacks in the CFL last year - 52 over 18 games for an average of 2.9 sacks per game - the Esks front five is now ranked the second-best in the league.

Through six games, Edmonton has given up just 10 sacks for an average of 1.7 a contest this summer.

The number of hits and hurries on quarterback Ricky Ray has also dropped.

"The numbers are down significantly," said Maciocia, who didn't have specific figures on hurries and hits. "He is not getting his (backside) kicked."

The improved O-line play has also come without standout left guard Dan Comiskey, who has missed the last five games with a broken ankle.

"We are much more physical, the talent pool is better, we are also deeper and we have designed certain schemes for the personnel we have," continued Maciocia.

- Something to keep in the back of your mind: Starting right tackle Joe McGrath is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season.

The non-import is having a rock-solid season and would be coveted on the free-agent market.

McGrath met with his agent in Burlington while the Esks were on their nine-day road trip to Ontario last month.

Maciocia has not set a time frame for having discussions with McGrath's agent.

Part of that is likely due to the fact the Esks don't have a good feel for where their 2008 overall salary cap figure will land.

Signing McGrath before the end of this season will likely take a signing bonus that will count toward this year's salary cap.

Maciocia and president/CEO Rick LeLacheur will know how much money they have to play with under the $4.2 million cap in the fall.

Kicker/punter Noel Prefontaine is the Esks other priority player in his option year right now.


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