Major Gass shortage

Middle linebacker A.J. Gass was a terror for opposing offences last season. The Eskimos are hopeful...

Middle linebacker A.J. Gass was a terror for opposing offences last season. The Eskimos are hopeful he will return to form when he hits the field for the first time this season on Saturday in Winnipeg. (Edmonton Sun/Ryan Jackson)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

For A.J. Gass, watching the first two games of the regular season was difficult.

Being the competitor he is, the Edmonton Eskimos linebacker would have liked nothing more than to be smashing heads with the Calgary Stampeders.

However, having missed all of training camp dealing with the death of his mother, Gass was not ready to take his place in the heart of the Eskimo defence.

But this Saturday when the Eskimos take on the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, Gass is expected to be back in the lineup.

GASS FEELS GOOD

"I feel good physically. I feel 10,000 times better than I did when I first got here, which is good, it's an improvement," Gass said. "But I'm still playing catch-up a little bit with these guys who are two games in and were at (training) camp."

In what capacity Gass will be used by the Eskimos has yet to be determined. This week of practice will allow the coaching staff to determine the best way for the 30-year-old to contribute.

"I'm trying to find a way to get (Gass) out there," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "Whether it's on special teams or getting him involved in some special packages on the defensive side of the ball."

Gass, the team's starting middle linebacker, had 50 defensive and 14 special team tackles last season. He returned to Edmonton from Tennessee on the eve of the Esks final exhibition game and got a chance to get in for a few plays. Since then, the nine-year Eskimo has been working on getting back into game shape.

"I just want to fill a role on the team that's going to help us win," Gass said. "Whether it's playing a lot of defence, just having a presence on the field for special teams, or just the confidence that coaches know I'm suited up on the sidelines, ready to go if they need me. Any facet of the game is what I'm anxious to take part of."

For the time being, Quincy Stewart is filling in for Gass at middle linebacker.

The second-year, Louisiana Tech product has played well, alleviating the need to expedite Gass's return.

"I'm trying to find a way to get them both on," Maciocia said. "I just think, when you take a look at our football team and all the changes we've made, we need A.J.'s leadership.

"Now how do you get him on and still keep Quincy, because Quincy has played as well as anybody has on defence?"

Stewart had only dressed for one CFL game prior to this season. Yet with three years of NFL experience, the Eskimos coaching staff were confident he could get the job done.

"I'm feeling a bit more comfortable, I've been getting a lot of support from everybody on the team that has been playing here," Stewart said. "It's not really a complicated defence. Coach (Rick) Campbell does a great job of simplifying it for us, making sure we know our gaps, where we need to be and at what particular time. It's all coming together."

STEWART HAS BEEN SOLID

Stewart has four tackles in two games from his middle linebacker position. He also has a special teams tackle. Although, he missed a tackle on Stampeders running back Joffrey Reynolds on Saturday, Stewart was otherwise solid.

But with the Eskimos defence playing so well in their 18-14 win over the Stampeders, it does make things a little easier for Gass who feels he's ready to go.

"I've always said I'm a patient guy. But when I get into situations like this where I'm watching games either on the sidelines or in the (press) box, it makes me want to rush things a little," he said. "But, it's one of those things where I don't want to try and jump in there and break up a little gel that they have going. It's going to take a little time for me to work my way back in and in that regard I am patient."

EXTRA POINTS: Starting C Tim Bakker missed practice yesterday after being sick Monday night. Maciocia is hoping he will be able to travel with the team this weekend.


Videos

Photos