Special day against Esks

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

First, the Edmonton Eskimos were forced to review the Itty Bitty Nightmare movie.

Then they tuned into Diff'rent Stokes.

No doubt, the Edmonton special teams were reminded of just how Montreal kicker returner Ezra (Itty Bitty) Landry burned them for two touchdowns during their loss to the Alouettes last week. One came on a 125-yard missed field goal return, the other on a 74-yard punt runback.

Tomorrow night in Edmonton, those same embarrassed special teams will have to face Winnipeg's Keith Stokes, the CFL's 2004 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player.

"They're going to have their work cut out for them because of what happened last week," Stokes suggested yesterday. "So, they're going to be real eager to get at it this week."

But that won't change his approach to the game.

"Not at all," he said. "I just know things are going to be real aggressive this week and we're rarin' to go on special teams."

STATE OF FLUX

However, with the offence in a state of flux and the defence still rounding into form, there will be a special emphasis on all aspects of the kicking game tomorrow.

"I expect a major factor in the game will be special teams," said Blue Bomber head coach Jim Daley. "We have a good returner (Stokes) and we have good coverage, and they're both going to come into play in a very significant way. Edmonton returned one for a touchdown, too. So, special teams is vital."

Tony Tompkins returned a kick 93 yards for a TD versus the Als. In fact, there have already been six touchdowns scored on kick returns this CFL season. Stokes, who has one of them, could not detect any major differences in the types of kick coverages being played.

NO REAL ADVANTAGE

"I don't think there's any real advantage, there's just a lot of great returners out there right now," the 5-foot-8, 180-pound CFL All-Star said. "I don't know what's going on with the coverage but it seems like everybody's breaking it.

"The kickers just have to learn to kick the ball out of bounds, I guess."

Although that's exactly what Eskimo placekicker Sean Fleming told Edmonton reporters that is what he is planning to do, head coach Danny Maciocia objected.

"You can't put it on one man (Fleming)," he told the Edmonton Journal. "You've got to go down the field and tackle."

Actually, Stokes will have some help at times for the second straight game as wide receiver Vinny Sutherland is also a promising returner.

"It's another guy with great speed back there," Stokes said. "And they won't know who to kick it to. It'll be double-damage to whomever they kick it to."

Although Daley has repeatedly praised Stokes for his study of film as he prepares to face an opponent, picking out weaknesses and knowing where his own blockers should be, Stokes is more concerned about Winnipeg's special teams.

"We can't worry about Edmonton, we can only worry about us," he said. "If we execute, we can go out and win. All we have to do is pick up our blocks, make the catches and we'll win the game."


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