Safety in numbers

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

The old saying is familiarity breeds contempt.

In the case of Kelly Wiltshire and William Loftus, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Mutual respect? Yes. Healthy competition? Certainly. Neither one of them would have it any other way.

Warm and fuzzy aside, though, Wiltshire, a nine-year veteran signed by the Edmonton Eskimos as a free agent in February, and Loftus, an eight-year vet who came over from Montreal in the Terry Vaughn deal in April, are after the same job - free safety in the Esks' defensive backfield.

That competition suits head coach Danny Maciocia, who knows both from his days with the Alouettes, just fine.

At the same time, one of them is going to win the starting job. The other is going to have to find another position to play. That, or another city to play in. They can both play. Will both stay?

"It's old-school rules," Loftus said. "You show up and you play to your full ability. You leave everything out on the field every single rep, every play. You just put yourself in a position to make plays."

Wiltshire, 32, who led the Ottawa Renegades in tackles for the second year in a row last season, is an iron man who's played 144 straight games since breaking in with the Toronto Argonauts in 1997. The native of St. Laurent, Que., is pencilled in atop Maciocia's depth chart at safety.

HERE TO COMPETE

Loftus, who celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday, is a Manitoba grad who helped the Alouettes beat the Esks in the 2002 Grey Cup during his seven seasons in Montreal. He's 1A at safety.

"We're here to compete," Wiltshire said. "We both came here to win a championship, so it's a team thing first, not an individual thing. We understand that's why we're here."

Wiltshire and Loftus spent two seasons, 2000 and 2001, as teammates on Montreal's defence. Maciocia was there for both of those campaigns before joining Edmonton's coaching staff in 2002.

NO LOSERS

He's sitting back and letting the best man win, knowing there's no losers in this one.

"It's tough right now," Maciocia said of competition for the job, which also includes Roger Reinson and Laval grad Martin Gagnon. "That first pre-season game will give us a good indication. Let's not forget, Kelly had also played linebacker, so there could be a point in time during the course of the season we could have them both on the field. That's exactly the situation."

Wiltshire has no intention of leaning on that possibility. While he's got nothing but good things to say about Loftus, he wants the job at safety.

"As free safety, you're the quarterback of the defence," Wiltshire said. "Not only do I have to be lined up correctly, I have to have the other guys lined up correctly. There's a challenge.

"I've got to come prepared every single day ... when we get out reps, we go full-out. We talk about it. This gives us great depth. We have two guys who could actually start. That's good for the team."

If Wiltshire is going to suit up for his 145th straight game when the Esks open the season, Loftus would just as soon have his old friend do so up front behind the big boys.

"I wish Kelly the best of luck, but I'm going to be out here working hard, too," he said.

"Whatever way the cards fall, I'm a team player and I'm going to do whatever the coaches ask me to do."


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