Whole new ball game

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

This is an Eskimos team that lost their last six games last season.

In the past two years a total of 134 different players wore the uniform, and you will be able to add another 21 to that total Saturday for the lid-lifter in Saskatchewan.

Not a recipe, as a rule, for early season success.

But when the team arrived at their dressing room yesterday to begin their time together as the 2008 regular season Edmonton Eskimos, a couple of key veterans admitted that the key to success by the end of the season is to start the new season a whole lot different than they finished the last one.

Not for the points in the standings so much as for the mental health of themselves, their coach and the city.

"Football is 90% mental and 10% physical," says Shannon Garrett, now the senior member of the squad that opens Saturday in Saskatchewan and returns home the following week to play the Calgary Stampeders.

"The main thing is to start by winning your first couple of games. If you start thinking you're going to win, you're probably going to win.

"If we win that first game in Saskatchewan it would be huge. I've been around a while. I know how hard it is to win in Saskatchewan. The new guys don't know the Edmonton Eskimos way of winning. The best way to teach them is to win.

LOTS OF REASONS

"I look around this room today and I think there are lots of reasons why we can be successful. The biggest one to me is special teams. We are so much better in special teams. We lost six games last year because of special teams."

This is a team that has made, on paper at least, a great many improvements in several other areas. I see the two lines - especially the offensive line - as the biggest reason.

And you can list a bunch of experienced veteran additions - Fred Perry, Jordan Younger, Dario Romero, Brock Ralph, Jason Maas, John Comiskey - as improvements.

Ask head coach Danny Maciocia and the challenge now is "coming together as a team."

Garrett makes the point.

"Winning brings players together."

Quarterback Ricky Ray sees it the same way.

"We have to get off to a good start and not just because getting off to a good start puts you in a good position," he said of the standings.

"Winning or losing can both become contagious and become habits. Having success cures everything and breeds more success. If you go out and have success, confidence builds with everybody."

Starting the season with a losing streak after finishing last year with six straight losses can bring back frustrations.

And the Eskimos, Maciocia admits, saw a lot of frustrations develop.

"Players with players, coaches with coaches, players with coaches, a lot of frustrations came in.

"To win in football you have to win together and lose together."

BETTER ENVIRONMENT

Maciocia says winning "puts a jump in your step, makes a much better environment and makes everybody feel good."

It is no revelation to suggest a significant percentage of the population does not feel good about Maciocia.

If this team gets off to a bad trip, the fans will be calling for his firing even louder than last year. And people are pointing to the stretch between Aug. 8 and Aug. 21, when the Eskimos have a break in the schedule, as being the likely time you'd replace a coach during the season.

If the Eskimos are 2-5 at that point, it's going to be even more ugly around here. If they are 4-3, not so much.

"I'm not bothered about that one bit. I'm just going to do my job," said Maciocia. "We have to all be in this together."

That said, it's a distraction which would disappear to some extent if the Eskimos get out of the gate great.

"There's pressure on everybody," said Ray, who was injured for the final five games last year.

Ray isn't blind or deaf. Getting off to a good start would go a long way to keeping his head coach here.

"He's a good coach. And he's a good coach to play for," said the quarterback. "We want to win with him."


Videos

Photos