Tony Tompkins has kept his job.
At least for now.
With yesterday's release of wide receiver Vince Strang, the kick return job is now Tompkins' to lose. And apparently he hasn't lost it.
"You have to knock out the champ, and nobody knocked out the champ," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "He's still standing and he still has another week to stand. If he can come out of it on top, he'll be our guy."
Tompkins returned five kicks in Friday's 28-3 loss, on the road, to the Calgary Stampeders. The third-year Eskimo had three kickoff returns for 59 yards and took a pair of punts back for a total of 24 yards.
STRUGGLED LAST YEAR
Strang took two kickoff returns for 39 yards and two punt returns for nine yards.
"I thought (Tompkins) had a pretty good football game," Maciocia said. "He was able to field the ball when we asked him to field it and he followed his blocks really well."
After an outstanding rookie season, Tompkins struggled last year. His punt return numbers were down by almost half and he didn't take a single kick back for a touchdown.
In his rookie year, the native of Pineville, Louisiana, took back three punts and a kickoff for a touchdown.
"Tony is not going solo with this, we need to help him," Maciocia said.
"What made Tony have that season that he had that first year is that up front we were holding and sustaining our blocks and buying him time to find a crease.
"I think that at times last year that was non-existent. We are all in this together. We need an effort from all 12 guys. If we can get him a crease, I think we'll see the Tony Tompkins of old."
Last year Tompkins had 501 punt return yards. He racked up 928 in his rookie year. That season he also averaged 12.4 yards per punt return. Last year that number fell to 6.7 yards.
On Friday, Tompkins averaged 12 yards per punt return.
"I thought it went real well, I felt good on the returns and got a little help up front," Tompkins said. "We were able to get the ball up field for positive yards and we have a lot to build on."
Wanting to put a disappointing year behind him, Tompkins is looking forward to the upcoming season. He had some competition at camp in the form of Strang, who turned some heads with his speed.
"I have to come back and do it all over, start all over from scratch, go out there and try to have another awesome year," Tompkins said. "For me, I'm just coming out and playing. I want to do a lot better than what I did last season. I'm just going to stay focused, stay comfortable, make plays and do what I can."
As is, at times, the case when a player has an outstanding rookie season, the following year can be a long one. Tompkins quickly became known throughout the league as a return threat and teams became more conscious of him.
Then the longer it went without Tompkins taking a kick back for a touchdown, the heavier the burden got.
"It got to that point last season where the pressure got to where I was trying to break one every time I got a chance," he said. "Now I'm looking forward to getting positive yards and if it comes, it comes."
The release of Strang and running back Phillip Brock, who also had the ability to return kicks, is a shot in the arm for Tompkins. But job security is fickle in football and he knows it.
"Definitely it gives you some confidence, but it's never over," Tompkins said. "If you don't go out and do your job, anytime you can get snipped.
"I have to go out and do my job day in and day out."