Speed demons

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

Defensively, it's all about speed for the Edmonton Eskimos this season.

That doesn't mean they won't be looking to lay the odd pop or two.

But with a more mobile defence, the Eskimos plan on flying all over the field.

"We want to swarm the ball this year," said middle linebacker A.J. Gass.

"We have a lot more team speed defensively than we've had in a long, long time.

"It's good to have speed, we can get a lot of hats to the ball and whenever there's a lot of hats to the ball, balls come out, guys pick up fumbles, get interceptions, big plays happen on defence.

"Speed for us is the key."

The defence will once again be anchored by Gass, who's heading into his 10th CFL season, all with the Eskimos.

The six-foot-three, 205-pound native of Bellflower, California, signed a three-year contract extension with the Eskimos this off-season.

He's currently nursing a bone bruise in his knee and is not expected to play in Friday's exhibition game against the Calgary Stampeders. However, he should be ready to go by the time the regular season starts.

Gass needs seven tackles this season to reach 400 in his career.

"A.J. is the heart and soul of our defence and our leader," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia.

"He'll help out some of our younger guys. What I appreciate about our younger guys is that they're going to make some mistakes, but they're going to make them at 100 miles per hour.

"A.J.'s going to be able to be there, direct them and guide them a little bit."

After missing the post-season for the first time in his CFL career last season, Gass has returned with extra motivation this year.

"I started training six weeks early," he said. "I got my weight up, I got my strength up, I got my speed up.

"Everything is on an upswing for me now. I'm feeling good, I love the way the guys are flying around and shaping up on defence.

"It's going to be a good year for us."

Along with Gass, the Eskimos have talented linebackers in Antico Dalton and Marcus Winn.

They also brought in promising rookies Ray Perryman and Siddeeq Shabazz.

The defensive line features Rob Brown, Jabari Issa, Adam Braidwood and Brandon Guillory. Braidwood was the team's nominee for rookie of the year last season and Guillory looked impressive after being brought in late in the year.

"I think we're going to be real aggressive this year," Braidwood said.

"I think the biggest thing is going to be our speed. We have a real athletic defensive line. We have athletic linebackers with some good veterans. I think we're going to play smash-mouth football and we're going to beat up some teams."

The biggest question heading into the season is whether the team can gel as a unit with all the new faces.

"I think we've already gelled," Braidwood said. "We have some new faces, but some of them are guys that aren't new to the league. And the guys that are new to the league are picking things up real fast.

"The coaches are doing a good job of getting everybody ready.

"After these two preseason games, I think we're going to be ready to go and compete with anybody."

There will also be a bigger onus on younger players such as Braidwood, safety J.R. LaRose, and Guillory.

"If we want to be a good defence, then everybody has to step up, even the vets have to step up," Gass said.

"But I think if we keep going with the progress we see right now, I don't see us being a weak part of this team at all."


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