Running on empty

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

Ron McClendon can unquestionably talk the talk.

He can sell season-ticket packages in the off-season just as well as he can verbally deliver the goods on how the Edmonton Eskimos need to establish the much-needed running attack.

McClendon has heard the knocks on both him and fellow struggling tailback Elvis Joseph, but the man known as Goldie was able to fire a shot back at the doubters.

"People have been saying that McClendon's no good and Elvis is no good. It's kind of frustrating. Ricky Williams could be here, but if he only got the ball three times, people would be saying he wasn't that good, too," said McClendon as the Esks prepared for Friday's game against the Montreal Alouettes.

The Esks definitely don't need any of their running backs trying to find themselves through any happy blue smoke. They're in enough of a fog already.

What McClendon and Joseph won't or can't do is demand the opportunity to strut their stuff.

"When your number is called to make the play that's your job. Your job is not to tell the coach that you want the ball," said McClendon. "But if you don't get into a rhythm and get comfortable it's not going to happen."

Maciocia will wait until today's practice to decide if a change in starting assignment is required. The only thing that seems to be certain is that import Hayden Epstein will take over field-goal kicking duties and leave the punting to Sean Fleming.

"I'm leaning in that direction," said Maciocia after Epstein went four for six during a rainy practice yesterday.

DECENT OUTING

Since a decent outing against Ottawa, Joseph has held the ball all of nine times in the past three games for a grand total of 28 yards. McClendon's numbers are marginally better - 33 carries for 162 yards in his four games - but his five-foot-eight frame is cause for concern compared to Joseph at six-foot-one.

McClendon did find some success against the Als back on July 8 - only 12 yards on the ground, but 79 with a touchdown via six receptions.

"That possibility exists week in and week out with him and Elvis," said Maciocia on this week's starting assignment. "It's something we're going to keep a close eye on with Goldie. He did play well last time against Montreal, but we also think a big back like Elvis can do some damage.

"The guy you're going to stick with is the guy that you feel deep down inside is going to get the job done. And it goes beyond the game. It goes into the film session and practice. Until you're comfortable with it, it's like a revolving door."

DOOR OPENED

The door swung wide open when durable Mike Pringle walked through to retirement. It may open again - sooner rather than later - if 2002 draft pick Dahrran Deidrick, currently nagged by an injury, springs loose from the Washington Redskins' camp.

Unless that happens, the Esks will have to forge on with what they've got.

''It takes some time to feel pretty good about one guy back there," said Maciocia.

"We're still leading the league in a number of offensive categories, but ultimately the one that worries me is that we're 5-3 and I know that if we had the running game going in a couple of those games chances are we'd have a better record today.

"It's easy to look for new people but I still think the two guys that are here are pretty good backs.

''The confidence is there but we just need to see it. Before you make a commitment on it, you better be able to see it first-hand instead of just going out and being stubborn about something and maybe costing you a game or two."

LATE HITS: Trevor Gaylor's slight shoulder problem won't keep him out of Friday's game ... Patrick Kabongo - all 315 pounds of him - was willing to offer his services to the Esks' running game in the same vein as William Refrigerator Perry did for the 1985 Chicago Bears. "Give me the ball inside, I'll make sure I score. It might be the first and only time I touch the ball," said Kabongo.


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