Esks insisting they're a changed team

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

REGINA -- The Edmonton Eskimos claim they are a changed team.

On the brink of elimination from the playoffs for the first time in 35 years, the leaders on the club believe a week of soul searching and closed-door meetings have left an impact.

"There is a new sense of confidence," said receiver Ed Hervey.

"Everybody has been assured that we are still one team and we're in it together."

Added linebacker A.J. Gass: "It's like cleaning the slate and starting over (right now) with a new clear head."

MUST-WIN GAME

If the Eskimos don't win tonight against the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to wear paper bags on their head because the record playoff streak will be all but over. A loss would mean the Tragic Number would drop to one - another win by the Riders in the final month or another loss the Green and Gold would seal the deal.

"We have to have that shift that we are going to go out and win this game rather than (wondering) what bad (thing) is going to happen to us - and I think guys are starting to realize that," said ace quarterback Ricky Ray in a crowded Hotel Saskatchewan lobby after the team arrived from the airport.

"I think we are realizing that in close ball games that we can't be on our heels, we have to be the ones that try to make the plays and make the difference."

Without a doubt, this Eskimos team hasn't stepped up and taken games by the throat in the fourth quarter this year.

For the first time, details are coming out of the players-only meeting this week - and the fourth quarter struggles were discussed.

"It seems like this year that has been our weakest quarter," added Gass.

And while some people didn't see much change this week in practice, veteran linebacker Singor Mobley did.

"It seemed like we got back to what we do (well)," he remarked.

"Guys are running to the ball after it is thrown - taking (better) angles, hustling 15 yards once the ball is past them."

TALK IS CHEAP

But the talk means nothing if it isn't backed up on the field. And all year, this Esks team has been confident in the locker-room, but has self-destructed on the field.

Today - more than at any point this season - the leaders on this team seem aware of the fact the proof will be in the pudding.

"Once the first negative play happens to us and their crowd goes berserk...then when we look into the eyes of everyone on the sidelines (and) we will see how well this team responds," said Hervey.

The other keys to this game:

1. Perfection in the red zone: Against one of the best defences in the CFL, points are a must inside the 20-yard line. For the Esks that has been anything but a given, considering five times this year they have walked away from the red zone without a touchdown or field goal.

2. Stop Kenton Keith: In two games against the Esks this year, Keith is averaging nine yards a carry. Enough said.

3. Establish Troy Davis: His best game of the season (91 yards on 15 carries) came against the Riders.


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