You gotta hand it to him!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Three carries for five yards.

For a runningback who played the whole game, those numbers are the football equivalent of an empty mailbox on the day your classmates hand out Valentine cards in school.

When you're ignored like that, it usually means they don't like you or, at the very least, they never even think of you.

So what is it with Elvis Joseph?

It's with a brave face and a stiff upper lip that the Eskimo runningback, he of the ignominious three-for-five stat, chooses to accept the latter.

"Last game we were in a situation where we got behind," said Joseph, who was inserted in the lineup to spark Edmonton's ground game, but didn't see a handoff in the entire second half of a 25-19 loss to the B.C. Lions.

"We had no choice but to throw the ball."

A 17-point deficit with 30 minutes to play shouldn't be grounds to pull your runningback out of the playbook, but that's what happened against the Lions. They handed off to him on the first play from scrimmage (one yard), the sixth play from scrimmage (three yards) and the second play of the second quarter (one yard).

That was it. Or, to paraphrase the public address announcer at Caesars Palace, "Elvis has left the game plan."

They threw him a couple of swing passes, presumably to see if he was still breathing, but other than that, they left him down at the end of lonely street.

"You just have to keep your composure, whether it's one carry, three carries or five carries," said the former Jacksonville Jaguar.

"No matter how many carries you have, you're just going in there trying to win the game. Being involved in a passing offence you have to emphasize your blocking; we have a great quarterback and we have to keep him healthy.

"Whatever it takes to get the win, that's what I'm willing to do. Personal accolades is not why I'm here."

Joseph is careful to say, and presumably mean, all of the right things, and he's probably right in assuming it's nothing personal - in the game before B.C., with Ron McClendon in the backfield, Edmonton only ran it eight times. But in any runningback's heart of hearts he wants to carry the ball 20 times. And taking one for the team loses much of its appeal when the team doesn't win.

"If you ask any tailback, they'll tell you they need 18 to 20 carries," said Eskimos' head coach Danny Maciocia, ultimately responsible for distributing the football. "And if you ask any receiver he'll tell you he needs 10 to 12 catches."

Right now, in ideal passing weather with an MVP-calibre quarterback and game-breakers at receiver, the aerial attack eats first and the runningbacks settle for table scraps. But Joseph, and McLendon before him, have no choice but to wait until opportunity, necessity or both force a change in strategy. Or NFL cuts force a change in personnel.

"I'm not an 'I' person," said Joseph, who isn't about to pull a T.O. the day before they play T.O. "It's a team sport. I stay positive. Once you let your attitude go down, your play could start to go with it. You have to keep your head up and look forward to the opportunity when you do get 25 carries."

And this might be the weekend. Toronto's defence overloads against the pass, making it susceptible to a ground attack. Montreal's Robert Edwards had 21 carries for 124 yards last week against a rush defence that ranks near the bottom of the league.

So, without seeming too much like Charlie Brown searching for a Valentine that might be hidden in a corner of his empty mailbox, Joseph might wonder if this is the week Edmonton goes with a two-dimensional offence.

"Without divulging what we're going to do, I think there's certain things there that we can do to have success," said Maciocia. "Both teams are going to put the ball up, no question about it. But, because both teams don't have a reputation for running it, maybe the running game will play a role and be the determining factor in who wins. They're going to try and get John (Avery) going and we're going to try and get Elvis going.

"You'll probably get two teams that hand the ball off 30 times each."


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