Bumping Tompkins

Eskimos' Tony Tompkins might lose his spot as punt and kick returner. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

Eskimos' Tony Tompkins might lose his spot as punt and kick returner. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Tony Tompkins hasn't officially lost his job.

But the chance of him returning kicks and punts for the Edmonton Eskimos this week in Regina doesn't look very good.

Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia is clearly auditioning several players for Tompkins' previously secure role on the club - and Tyler Ebell seems to have the inside track to take it.

"I love returning - one-on-one, open space," said Ebell, who has been a healthy scratch for two straight games. "I am going to go out there and make some plays."

That is what the Eskimos need. It is something Tompkins hasn't delivered this year - or for the majority of last season.

After being a rookie sensation in 2005 - notching four special teams touchdowns in the regular season - the diminutive import hasn't found the end zone since.

Maciocia is trying to make it clear that he hasn't yet made a decision on his returner this week. But by watching the audition process in practice yesterday, Ebell seems to be the morning-line favourite.

And by reading between the lines when Tompkins speaks, it appears he believes that job is already out of his hands.

"The coaches feel that they need to make a change back there on the punt returns," said Tompkins.

"I just have to take it as it goes. I have been playing average (this year)."

In one clear example during yesterday's practice, Tompkins thought he was returning a punt in one particular drill but then watched Ebell trot down the field to take his place.

Both players got cracks at returning during the overall 2 1/2-hour session, but Ebell often took the first reps.

However, if Ebell does come on the roster this week when the Esks battle the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Ron McClendon will remain the starting running back. That much is certain. The two imports could appear in the backfield together at the same time. But more likely, Ebell could relieve McClendon at certain times in the game.

"It is exciting," said McClendon on the prospect of having Ebell on the active roster.

"You've got to get playmakers on the field."

Rushing for 132 yards in Week 1 of the regular season and proving to be a rock-solid receiver out of the backfield, Ebell has proven to be a very dangerous weapon.

When McClendon returned to health from a hamstring injury in Week 3, Ebell was taken off the roster.

The move didn't sit well with the rookie, but he didn't publicly complain.

With a history of returning punts and kicks in college, this could be the beginning of a pivotal new role for him with the Green and Gold.

Like Corey Holmes did in Saskatchewan a few years ago, Ebell could be a spark plug on special teams and a dynamite change-of-pace running back/receiving threat.

But the audition process will continue today in practice with a decision not coming until Friday.

McClendon, Fred Stamps and Pat Woodcock will likely continue to get return reps, along with Ebell and Tompkins. Leading his college team in kickoff return yardage, McClendon could take that specific role on Saturday - leaving punts and missed field goals to Ebell.

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TONY TOMPKINS

TONY TOMPKINS' RETURN STATISTICS

2007 - 0 TDS

- Ranked 4th in CFL in punt return average - 9.1 yards per return

- based on minimum 10 punts returned

- Ranked 10th in CFL in kickoff return average - 15.3 yards per return

- based on minimum 4 kickoffs returned

2006 - 0 TDS

- Ranked 11th in CFL in punt return average - 6.7 yards per return

- based on minimum 25 punts returned

- Ranked 4th in CFL in kickoff return average - 20.1 yards per return

- based on minimum 25 kickoffs returned

2005 - 4 TDS

- Ranked 4th in CFL in punt return average - 12.4 yards per return

- based on minimum 25 punts returned

- Ranked 1st in CFL in kickoff return average - 27.5 yards

- based on minimum 25 kickoffs returned


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