The value of versatility

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

They've been shuffled around more often than a deck of cards.

Yet, somehow the defensive secondary of the Edmonton Eskimos keeps getting the job done.

"That's a testament to the type of football players we have here," said cornerback Jordan Younger.

"We have some versatile guys. We have some good football players on our team."

In their 27-10 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Thursday, the Eskimos gave up just 176 yards through the air.

They frustrated Roughriders quarterback Marcus Crandell, who only completed seven of his 24 pass attempts.

"I thought we did a pretty good job of mixing it up out there," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia.

"You can't give Marcus Crandell a steady diet of one particular coverage and think you're going to get away with it. We mixed it up, at times we brought pressure and at times we just rushed three.

"We played some variations of zone, sometimes we played man. We just tried to keep him off balance for the most part and if you take the first quarter away, after that, we were perfect."

The Roughriders only completed two passes over 20 yards in the loss.

Both came on the same series, as Crandell found Wes Cates out of the backfield for a 27-yard ramble. On the next play, Crandell hit slotback Weston Dressler, who ran away from defensive back Jonte Buhl and safety Siddeeq Shabazz for a 35-yard TD reception.

Apart from that, the Eskimos defence kept the Roughriders in check and the secondary didn't give up another pass over 16 yards.

"I think what people are seeing is that our coach is starting to trust us a little bit more and we're starting to understand where we need to be," Younger said.

"Our coverage is starting to mix things up a little bit better. I think we had their quarterback a little bit confused. He didn't know where to go with the ball right away."

Making it all the more impressive is the fact the secondary has practically been different every week.

On Thursday, Younger returned to his cornerback spot after missing the last two games with a bad hamstring, but safety Trey Young sat out an ankle injury.

That forced Shabazz to step in at safety - a position he had never played with the Eskimos - and Ken Onatolu to take over at outside linebacker.

"Kenny Onatolu was taking on Cates man-on-man and he did a really good job on him," Younger said. "Cates didn't have a lot of big plays tonight."

Apart from his one 27-yard reception in the first quarter, the Roughriders running back was kept in check. He only had three other catches, totaling 29 yards. He was also held to 77 yards on the ground.

"One of the big things we did is stop the run," said defensive back Jason Goss.

"Our whole focus going in was that we couldn't let Cates get us. We had to let Crandell try to beat us by passing the ball, and that's exactly what we did. It's like a chess match. We had to try to take away what he wanted, and when he did complete a pass, we had to rally and make a tackle."

Goss has moved around the secondary this year, including a stint at safety. His versatility allows him to play anywhere in the defensive secondary.

"It is tough, it's not an easy task, but that's what you have to do in football," Goss said.

"When a person goes down, you have to go in and fill their position and anyone here can do that. We work well together. Even though we shuffle a lot of guys around, we help each other out. The chemistry is there.

"We've moved around a lot of people and we were still able to make plays out there."


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