White shows Eskimos running game is more than just all right

 

 
 
 
 
The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.
 
 

The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.

Photograph by: Bruce Edwards Bruce Edwards

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EDMONTON - At the start of the Edmonton Eskimos season, there were a few go-to household names on the roster.

Quarterback Mike Reilly and slotbacks Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman probably topped most fans’ lists. On defence, defensive end Odell Willis, brand new all-star cornerback Pat Watkins and maybe linebacker J.C. Sherritt were easy to rattle off.

A full 18 games and one playoff win later, John White’s name has run its way into that conversation.

When training camp opened in June, few would have thought that the second-year running back would be the impact player that he’s become, taking 123 handoffs for 852 yards and two touchdowns. On Sunday, in the Canadian Football League’s West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders — when the run game is paramount to victory — a trip to the Grey Cup will rest in the 23-year-old’s capable hands.

White’s come a long way from June, when an injury had him out of the majority of training camp. When he finally did get into action, it looked like he was on the bubble, listed as the third running back on the Eskimos’ depth chart for the team’s final pre-season game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

But by Week 3 of the season, White had gone from third to starter. Last year’s No. 1 option, Hugh Charles, was a final cut in training camp. Rookie Tyler Thomas had trouble hanging onto the ball and wasn’t producing.

White got the start against the Ottawa Redblacks in Week 3 and gave his team a 99-yard day in a come-from-behind win. It was his first of eight games this year where he’d go over 90 yards. He’s had four games over 100 yards rushing and is coming off a 139-yard effort in last week’s playoff win over the Riders.

You won’t get a complex answer from the Torrance, Calif., native on what’s worked for him this year.

“I never saw myself at two or three on the depth chart,” he said on Thursday at the end of the Eskimos’ closed practice.

“I got my reps (in practice) and I can’t count my reps, I have to make my reps count. (I knew at) any point I could be in there and that’s just what happened.”

Like every player coming in from last year’s 4-14 season, White had a lot to prove. As a rookie, he showed glimpses of what he could do. He was a dual threat, capable of big gains on the ground, but also showed he could take a short pass and turn it into heavy yardage. In too many key situations last year, though, those passes were dropped and cost his team.

“I watched every game of his from last year,” Eskimos running backs coach Jo Nixon said of White earlier this month. “A lot of that is maturity. It’s patience, allowing the offensive line to set blocks for him and not rush so fast. He takes his time and the (O-line sets it up).

“He’s gotten better with that, picking his holes and his spots, where he hits his holes.”

With that, his numbers have spiked this season. His rushing totals are up almost 600 yards and his receiving numbers (17 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown) are more than double what he had in his rookie year (seven for 86, with two touchdowns).

He’s matured and, as White and Eskimos head coach Chris Jones point out, he’s also put in a lot of work over the last year to move past those costly moments from 2013.

“Last year, I was glad they didn’t play him,” said Jones, who was the Toronto Argonauts’ defensive co-ordinator at the time. “Because I thought he was tremendously explosive.

“He did drop some balls and … that was a trend, but he really, really worked hard in pre-season and in camp working extra with his coaches catching the football.”

When mistakes have happened this year, White’s been able to leave it behind him.

“He doesn’t let it affect his next play,” Jones said. “I would think early on he would let a drop or a fumble affect his next play and you can’t do that. You have to have a short memory and go into the next one.”

White’s productivity has allowed Reilly to run less this year and, along with Kendial Lawrence, has helped lift the Eskimos’ run game from dormancy a year ago (1,763 net yards rushed, fifth in the CFL) to a legitimate threat and a key part to the team’s turnaround. With 2,459 net rushing yards, the Eskimos are second to — who else? — Calgary (2,590) in that category.

There’ll be plenty of conversation leading into Sunday’s game about Jon Cornish, who has routinely torched the Eskimos on the ground this year (272 yards in two games), but White has finally given the Eskimos the threat they’ve missed since Jerome Messam was with the team in 2011.

“In this playoff battle, it’ll be who can run the ball the best,” White said. “I feel confident in our defence (about stopping Cornish), I always do. We just have to do the job and offensively execute.”

MCCOIL AWAY FROM TEAM FOR A DAY

Eskimos linebacker Dexter McCoil missed Thursday’s practice due to a personal matter that required him to go home to Metairie, La. Jones said that McCoil left Edmonton on Wednesday night and would be back for Friday’s practice.

coleary@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/olearychris

Facebook.com/edmontonjournalsports

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Edmonton Journal football writer Chris O'Leary and sports columnist John MacKinnon talk to sports editor Craig Ellingson about the Edmonton Eskimos' next game: the Canadian Football League's Western final on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, against the Calgary Stampeders.

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The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.
 

The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.

Photograph by: Bruce Edwards Bruce Edwards

 
The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.
The presence of John White will give the Edmonton Eskimos a solid running threat against the Stampeders in Sunday’s CFL West Division final in Calgary.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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