Esks glad to be back in playoffs

JIM BENDER

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

It is a misleading stat.

Danny Maciocia has never lost a CFL playoff game since he became the Edmonton head coach. Then again, he has failed to even make it to the playoffs since leading the Eskimos to Grey Cup victory in 2005, his rookie season.

Maciocia literally went from the penthouse to the outhouse as he coached the first Edmonton team to miss the playoffs in 35 years the ensuing season. To make matters worse, the Eskimos missed the post-season for the second straight year in 2007.

But Maciocia guided the Eskimos to a 10-8 record this year and is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

"It feels good to be back," Maciocia said over the phone from Edmonton earlier this week. "The last time we were there, things worked out for us.

"But there is a lot of satisfaction in getting this program turned around."

Maciocia and his staff spent the off-season determined to upgrade a team that had finished 5-12-1 in almost every area.

"It was a lot of hard work," he said. "The key was to get players we needed at certain positions and to improve our depth. What we were able to accomplish is really a credit to our scouting department."

That depth proved its worth when the Eskimos lost both veteran receiver Jason Tucker and defensive end Fred Perry to injuries early in the season.

"Any time you lose players like Tucker and Perry, who are clearly-established veteran players, it really helps to have that depth," Maciocia said. "And it's really encouraging because these are young guys who are only going to get better."

Specifically, Maciocia feels his squad has improved the most dramatically at receiver, offensive line and defensive line. In fact, he credits the D-line for the fact that the Eskimos are tied for second in the CFL with 23 picks.

"Our receiving corps can really stretch the field and our O-line has gotten a lot better," Maciocia said. "And we have improved our Canadian content."

The Eskies made some significant off-season moves, acquiring Perry from Saskatchewan and signing defensive tackle Dario Romero (Montreal) to address its D-line woes. They acquired O-linemen Garrick Jones and John Comiskey in trades with Calgary. And they got veteran defensive back Jordan Younger in a deal with Toronto. Plus, they added Canadian wide receiver Brock Ralph from Hamilton.

The addition of newcomer Kelly Campbell and the continued revival of veteran Kamau Peterson has sparked the receiving corps, especially after Edmonton lost Tucker to a career-ending injury.

Defensive back Tristan Jackson has also revived the Edmonton return game.

"Our return game is, well, great," Maciocia said.

Add it all up and he will bring a pretty promising post-season squad to Winnipeg for today's Eastern Semifinal.

Maciocia, however, is well aware that no visiting team has won a crossover playoff in four tries.

"That's encouraging," he said. "Maybe we're due."

Then again, Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray has never lost a non-Grey Cup game. He could be due, too.

"I'm proud to take this team into the playoffs," Maciocia said previously. "The biggest struggle is trying to figure out how to let these guys know how good they can be."

Now that they are back in the playoffs, the Eskimos can continue that road back to championship-calibre football with a victory over Winnipeg today.

"It's going to be a battle," Maciocia said. "It will be very physical and intense."


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