VANCOUVER - The Jerome Messam experiment the Edmonton Eskimos under took this season was made possible because of Calvin McCarty.
The all-Canadian backfield was a viable option due to the reliable veteran’s presence, just in case anything happened.
Well, that ‘anything’ waited until playoffs to happen, as Messam’s post-season is done due to a bad knee.
Now it’s up to McCarty to fill the role of the team’s non-import option out of the backfield.
“Right, so West Division final, let’s go,” said the five-foot-10, 215-pound native of Surrey, B.C. “I played in the East final in 2008. My role, it’s different now. I’m a different player and it’s a completely different team.
“My job is to be ready. It’s the same story as it’s always been for me, really.”
The team’s nominee for most outstanding Canadian last season, McCarty saw his numbers drop somewhat to 209 yards on 52 carries for a 4.0-yard average.
His first rushing touchdown of the season came following Messam’s injury in last week’s division semifinal.
And his workload isn’t about to decrease this week in Messam’s absence.
While import back Hugh Charles is expected to start and shoulder most of the load on Sunday, McCarty will spell him off and get the call when the Eskimos want a different look. His presence means a fourth import receiver, such as Jason Armstead, can get in on formations.
All the while continuing to be a leader on special teams.
“That’s basically how I got noticed,” McCarty said. “They didn’t bring me in here to carry the rock, being a fourth-round pick. I’d hear things like, ‘Oh, you’re Canadian. You’re never going to touch the rock. Get your teams right.’
“Even then, I’d take it with a grain of salt and just keep working. When opportunity comes, just be ready to show them.”
What the Eskimos saw out of training camp put McCarty at the top of the depth chart to start the season.
“Calvin earned that in training camp. He was the starter for four games and that gave us a lot of ratio flexibility,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. “Jerome was Calvin’s backup and that was the security blanket that would allow us to keep the ratio integrity in case something happened to Calvin.
“As time progressed, Jerome made his mark and we flipped the script a bit.”
While Messam went on to lead the charge for the offence along the ground, McCarty made himself indispensable on special teams with spot duty in the backfield.
“He’s been consistent for us all year,” Reed said. “He’s carried the ball three or four times a game, he’s been in each game at least 10 reps so his protection is pretty good and his receiving skills speak for themselves, so we’re pretty confident with Calvin and what we’ll get out of him.”
The Lions expect nothing less from McCarty, either — to the point where they prepared no differently for the Eskimos after learning of Messam’s status.
“McCarty is a very good back,” said Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono. “Is he Jerome Messam? He’s not the same kind of size of athlete, but as a football player he runs the ball well, he’s very good catching the football and do they have to alter what they do? No.
“Will they alter what they do? I don’t know that. But at the end of it, we’ve been very good against the run all year and for us to win (Sunday), we have to be good against the run.”