EDMONTON - He doesn’t have a win with the Edmonton Eskimos, but it’s taken Marcus Howard little time to make a big impact on his new team.
The former Indianapolis Colts defensive end arrived just in time to leave on a 10-day road trip to Winnipeg and Montreal.
While both games resulted in losses, he has shown he is more than just a stop-gap measure for injured veteran Greg Peach. Howard looks like a game-changer.
The pressure Howard put on Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce in his CFL debut evolved into a pair of sacks against the Alouette’s Anthony Calvillo last week.
“He’s changed our defence,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. “He’s definitely already changed our defence.
“We’re not sending a lot of pressure with five or six guys, we’re now relying on our down linemen to pass-rush. As we saw against Montreal, we reaped a lot of benefits from that.”
While Edmonton’s offence fizzled out in a 27-4 loss, their defence held the league’s top offence to sub-par numbers as Howard led the way with two sacks, a forced fumble and a tackle.
“Quickly he’s come in and, I would say, quickly he’s going to assert himself as one of the premier pass-rushers in this league,” said Reed, who needed to find a replacement for Peach to work with Julius Williams. “We went through a lot of guys to find the perfect two.
“And now, once we have Greg back, we’ll have the perfect three in terms of rotational things.”
Howard coming in and raising the bar at the position is raising the level of play on the defence.
“I’ve been blessed, since I’ve started coaching, of having defensive-end tandems,” said Reed, who had two of the top-three sack leaders last season as Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator. “Odell (Willis) and Phillip (Hunt), those guys fed off of each other and that’s the way, usually, great pass-rushers are.”
Yet to play at home and still getting used to the CFL rules, Howard has room to grow, but the Eskimos’ expectations aren’t exactly busting the seams.
“You have to temper expectation with reality. The reality is he’s still getting into game shape, he’s still understanding the game and he hasn’t seen but two schemes yet,” Reed said. “And teams now have him on film. so I’m not going to put too huge of expectations on him because I don’t want him to try to live up to it.”
A fifth-round selection by the Colts in 2008, Howard played nine games as a rookie.
After joining the Tennessee Titans practice squad last season, Calvillo was the first quarterback Howard got his hands on in over a year.
“That’s what I feel they brought me up here to do,” said the six-foot-one, 245-pounder out of Georgia. “That’s what I like to do.”
And the third-year pro is relying on his time with the Colts to help him get up to speed in the CFL.
“I learned from two great defensive pass-rushers, in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. We had a great defensive line coach and it was a good time,” Howard said. “Things didnt work out there and you don’t know what the future holds, but right now I’m an Edmonton Eskimo.”