Not a total waste

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

At the time of the Edmonton Eskimos' train wreck last year, it was hard to find many positives.

During the 5-12-1 2007 season, the club's coaching and management staff were constantly ripped for being inadequate.

But in this fall's playoff drive it has become rather clear that the Green and Gold are experiencing some spinoff benefits from last year's disastrous campaign.

A six-pack of sophomores - WR Maurice Mann, RB Calvin McCarty, LB Kenny Onatolu, FS Siddeeq Shabazz, SB Fred Stamps and DB Lenny Williams - had their CFL rookie campaign in Edmonton last year.

That experience is now paying big dividends as each are playing significant roles heading into Saturday's East Division final in Montreal (11 a.m. MT kickoff).

"It was huge," said Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia on his young players developing last year.

"That was part of the growing pains.

"Those things are critical to your success. We are better for it."

In last Saturday's 29-21 win in Winnipeg in the East Division semifinal, the Esks' sophomores stepped up.

Williams had a forced fumble, three tackles at defensive back and three special teams tackles.

McCarty had a team-high seven catches for 52 yards from the running back position.

Mann added five catches, Stamps had one grab for 20 yards, Shabazz had five tackles and Onatolu had six tackles and one forced fumble.

"I'm glad we kept the course," said Maciocia on keeping this young crew after last season.

Down the stretch of the regular season this six-pack started to become really noticeable.

Shabazz had nine tackles and two quarterback sacks on Oct. 31 to earn CFL defensive player of the week.

Mann had two touchdowns in his final three regular-season contests.

McCarty averaged nearly six catches per game in the final month of the season.

And Onatolu has solidified the weak-side linebacker spot.

"The whole thing was a learning process (last year), I guess," said Shabazz.

"I am just a little bit more comfortable (this year) -knowing some of the quarterbacks and basic plays that are key plays out here."

Added Williams on what he learned last year: "It's football but the NFL and CFL games are a lot different as far as Xs and Os, more than people would think.

"(It's) learning quarterbacks, receivers and what we are trying to accomplish as a defence."

Williams came to the Eskimos from NFL Europe but had originally been spotted with the Dallas Cowboys.

On offence, Stamps only played nine games in 2007 but learned plenty in the locker-room and on the practice field.

"Watching Kamau (Peterson) and (Jason) Tucker you can learn a lot from them by the way they prepare for the game," said Stamps.

The running start from the line of scrimmage for an inside receiver is something that has taken plenty of adjustment.

"It was tough, something new that I am still having a tough time with but it is getting better every day," continued Stamps.

For a scouting staff that hit a really rough patch in 2006 - examples include Richard Alston, Sherrod Coates, Chris Cole, Dorsett Davis, Brent Hafford, Dwayne Mundle, Andre Sommersell, Toby Zeigler - it has redeemed itself with this sophomore crop.


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