ALBERTA

Eskimos' Odell Willis not worried about Edmonton's defensive struggles

08/01/2013 04:19 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos defence has not performed to expectations so far this season, giving up a division-high 139 points and a league-high 15 touchdowns through the first five games.

But despite the struggles, linebacker Odell Willis says the team's defensive unit will be just fine.

The issue, he said, stems partly from an unfamiliarity between new teammates that will be ironed out with time.

"It's always tough to jell with newcomers," Willis said. "Once we jell and once things come together, the sky's the limit. The thing is, we have to put together a whole game.

"Once the season gets towards the end, I want people to come and ask us questions," he added. "Right now we're just getting started."

Edmonton's defensive woes — coupled with a struggling offence — have put the Eskimos in the bottom of the West Division with just one win in five games. The Eskimos are 0-2 when playing at home this season and they will host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who are also 1-4, Friday night.

Head coach Kavis Reed said the defence has played well "in spurts," like it did in the second half of last week's 32-27 loss to Montreal. Overall, he said, they "haven't done poorly."

But there have been disappointments, Reed added, like the lack of pressure the line — anchored by Willis and Marcus Howard — is getting on the quarterbacks and their inability to stop the run.

Edmonton is giving up an average of 143 rushing yards per game and has held a team under 135 yards only once this season. That happened July 7 in Hamilton when the Tiger-Cats were held to 66 rushing yards after Edmonton jumped into a 16-0 lead before torrential rains began to fall. The Eskimos won that game 30-20, taking their first and only victory of the young CFL season.

Cornerback Joe Burnett, who will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, said that fixing these issues will be critical Friday when Edmonton takes on Hamilton.

"Last game … they didn't get to do a lot of what they wanted to do," Burnett said. "They'll come in here passing the ball and we have to get pressure on their quarterback to rush him into making decisions."

Third-year Eskimo Almondo Sewell doesn't totally buy into Willis' argument that the team needs time to jell, especially with a relatively veteran defence including Willis, who comes to Edmonton after four years in the league.

"We're all professional players," Sewell said. "You come in, you do your job."

The biggest problem through five games, he added, was the defence "making a bunch of mistakes. "

Mostly, those mistakes have come in the form of costly penalties at inopportune times, prompting Reed to warn his players two weeks ago that they would face consequences if the penalties continued. Reed said his players have responded well, adding that penalties will never be fully avoided.

"We just want to make sure they're not stupid penalties that cost us," he said.

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