Follow the leader

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

As if the Edmonton Eskimos didn't have enough problems, they're now facing a significant leadership issue.

The retirement of middle linebacker A.J. Gass this week means several players need to come forward to help fill that gaping leadership hole.

"There has got to be guys that have to step up," said Sean Fleming, who retired to end the 2007 season.

"We have lost, over the last two to three years, tons of leadership. It was a tough battle for some of the guys last year to carry the load. And losing (Gass) now, it is going to be tough, very tough.

"I don't really know where it is going to come from. That is a big concern. A lot of leadership is no longer around."

Gass was the last remaining member of a core leadership group - including Fleming, Ed Hervey, Chris Morris, Bruce Beaton, Singor Mobley, Donny Brady - that helped lead the Eskimos to their last playoff victory in the 2005 Grey Cup.

Knowing the inside workings of the 2007 locker room better than almost anyone, Fleming believes fullback Mathieu Bertrand could step forward to take more of a leadership role.

Defensive end Adam Braidwood is also willing to help fill the void.

"We are all going to have to come together and make up for not having A.J. around," said Braidwood, who will be entering his third season.

"He brings a lot of intensity to the game and it is on us to make up for it."

SHORT YARDAGE

There were several great stories and quotes floating around the Eskimo alumni room during yesterday's retirement media conference for Gass.

The best quote might have come from Gass's wife Stacey.

"It is amazing. Every single season I (was) prepared to pack our bags and leave, expecting he was going to get cut," she said.

"For nine years that I have been part (of him), every year it has been like - 'We're still here. Holy cow, we're still here.' "

QUICK HIT

The lowest point in Gass's 10-year Eskimo career came in the nation's capital in 2002 when he blew apart his left knee, needing surgery to re-construct his ACL and MCL.

"I was standing in Ottawa on crutches just knowing that it (my career) was over," he remembered.

FINISH LINES

The Eskimos will conduct player medicals on May 31 with training camp opening June 1 ... The most recent draft of the CFL schedule calls for the Eskimos to have a bye on the weekend of Aug. 15-17.


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