Tompkins spinning his wheels

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Tony Tompkins is practically stuck in neutral.

In stark contrast to last season - when he led the CFL in punt return yardage - the gifted Edmonton Eskimo speedster is only averaging four yards per punt return after the first two games of this year against Calgary.

"We're trying new guys out (on the punt return team) and the chemistry hasn't been there yet," said a frustrated Tompkins.

"Plus, Calgary has a very good punt team - doing things like pinning me in the corner so their guys can cover me well."

Head coach Danny Maciocia is more blunt.

"We have to do a better job of helping (Tompkins) out, throw some blocks down field and try to spring him," said the coach.

In one sense, Tompkins is a victim of his own success.

A 12.4-yard average per return and a league-high three punt-return touchdowns last year definitely grabs the attention of other teams around the league.

"People are keying on Tony. He had a big year last season and it's not going to be easy for him (this year)," said special teams coach Malvin Hunter.

"He is not going to sneak up on anyone. But as a return unit, we have to put other guys back - keying on Tony opens the door for somebody else.

"That's why Mookie Mitchell is averaging 13 yards per return."

But while that is true, giving Tompkins the right blocks and a lane to run is very important because the Eskimos have been saddled with horrible field position this year.

Nobody on this team is better at changing field position than Tompkins.

So many times last year, he changed it in the blink of an eye, giving the Eskimos' offence a shorter field to work with.

This regular season - believe it or not - the Green and Gold hasn't started one drive on offence in the opposition's territory.

Only four drives out of 31 this season have started beyond the Esks' 41-yard line.

"Field position is huge," said Maciocia, knowing a poor starting point for his offence can lead to a short field for the opposition when it gets the ball.

"That first game in Calgary, our defence is in our end for three-quarters of our first half, which is ridiculous."

SHORT HIT: Although CFL rosters have expanded to 46 players this year, the Eskimos only plan to bring 42 players with them on the road.

"It is a cost issue. The Edmonton Eskimos have a budget, too," cracked Maciocia.

While the Esks charter to destinations in the West - like Winnipeg - meaning there is no extra cost for plane tickets, bringing players that won't dress costs the club hotel rooms and $100 per diems.

So, Jabari Issa, Jonte Buhl, Trevor Gaylor and Antico Dalton - the four members of the reserve squad on the 46-man roster - will stay in Edmonton today instead of boarding a plane to Winnipeg.

But if a virus suddenly rolls through the team, the Esks can still airlift a player into Winnipeg using a commercial flight tomorrow morning or early afternoon.


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