Even stronger

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Will the Edmonton Eskimos catch a much-needed break in the midst of a high-profile slump?

As the B.C. Lions prepare to travel to Commonwealth Stadium for Saturday's tilt, is Wally Buono's undefeated crew finally vulnerable?

After being battered and smacked in an incredibly physical game against the Montreal Alouettes last weekend, are the Lions ripe for the picking?

The answer to all of the above: Fat chance.

The perfect 11-0 Lions will roar into Edmonton later this week in near-perfect condition.

In fact, when this powerful group of players leaves the sunny Vancouver mainland on an airplane tomorrow, they should be much stronger than they were before or during last Saturday's hard-fought victory against Montreal.

An astonishing 10 to 12 Lions were battling flus or colds last week before hosting the Alouettes.

Four-time league all-star linebacker Barrin Simpson and top-notch defender Carl Kidd were among the worst. Simpson actually had to be taken off the field and given two litres of intravenous fluid because he was so dehydrated.

"One of our players lost 10 pounds," added head coach Wally Buono before delivering bad news to the Esks about his previously ill players. "But they're coming back to life."

The relatively clean air is also back at the Lions' practice facility in Surrey. Some on this West Coast are suggesting the foul air from the Burns Bog fire in Delta last week caused the flu symptoms.

"It was tough for two or three practice days last week, but you can't cancel practice," continued Buono. "It was tough to breathe. (The smoke from the fire) affected your lungs and sinuses, but we fought through it."

The smoke is gone this week.

So is the sick bay and the MASH unit.

Every starter - with the exception of halfback Mark Washington - took part in practice yesterday, which is impressive considering the list of walking wounded after Montreal's visit.

- Defensive back Ryan Phillips suffered a mild concussion and injured foot.

- Cornerback Dante Marsh suffered a hand injury.

- Defender Sam Young hurt a heel.

- Washington broke his collarbone.

- Defensive tackle Tyrone Williams suffered a nasty gash on a hand.

But x-rays proved there were no broken bones for Young and Phillips. They will play, along with Marsh and Williams on Saturday.

Washington is out for the month, but will be replaced by stellar rookie Tony Tiller. Washington leads the team in tackles, but Tiller forced two fumbles and made two tackles last Saturday.

And three-time CFL all-star safety Barron Miles returns this week after missing Montreal's effort with the chicken pox.

"He'll be fresher and hungrier (this week)," explained Buono.

But battling the Eskimos will not be easy.

"They moved the ball against a good Saskatchewan defence last week," said Buono.

Top-ranked quarterback Ricky Ray delivered 348 yards through the air in Regina last Sunday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their No. 1 defence in the league against the pass.

On the other hand, the Lions' pass defence is ranked in the middle of the pack in the CFL.

Ray is the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season.

"I hope he doesn't pass for 4,000 yards against us," said Buono with a laugh.

Buono might not have been in such a joking mood if his club was ravaged with injuries or sickness like it was last weekend.


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