Arkee Whitlock’s return causes crowded backfield for Edmonton Eskimos

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Eskimos backfield used to be belong to Arkee Whitlock. He was the primary ball carrier who rushed for 1,293 yards in 2009 and 689 in nine games last season before a foot injury ended his year.

The five-foot-10, 210-pound native of Rock Hill, S.C., returned to the lineup last week in Calgary and settles into a crowded backfield that includes Daniel Porter, Jerome Messam and Calvin McCarty. That’s just fine with Whitlock.

“The backfield used to be mine, I’m the starter, I’m coming on the field every time,” Whitlock said Thursday after the Eskimos final walkthrough before Friday’s home game against the Toronto Argonauts (1-3). “But I’m a team guy, I’m all about the team.”

The surprising Eskimos (4-0) are the CFL’s lone undefeated team and a big reason for that is the players having bought into the team philosophy much like the running backs have done.

”We all know the situation, you can’t be ‘I’ before the logo, it has to be team,” said Whitlock who carried 10 times for 56 yards in his return against Calgary. “(Head coach) Kavis (Reed) did a good job explaining that to the team and as long as we follow that we’ll be good.

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“We all don’t care about the carries. We’ll get opportunities to play and at the end of the day it’s about what the team does and how we can help the team. We all know when we get the opportunity it could be short-lived or it could be long, but we have to do what’s right for the team.”

Fifth-year Eskimo McCarty said having four running backs – two imports and two non-imports – helps everyone in the long run, especially the team.

“At the end of the game if we have more ground yards than the other team, most likely we controlled the clock and we had success moving the ball, getting first downs… that translates into time of possession,” he said. “If we’re running the ball we’re having success.”

The Eskimos lead the CFL in rushing with 517 yards, an average of 113 per game. They’ve ran the ball 113 times, taking pressure off the passing game, which is still No. 1 with 1,231 yards despite quarterback Ricky Ray throwing a league-low 119 times.

Messam has rushed for 220 yards (5.1-yard average), McCarty for 84 yards (3.8-yard average) and Porter for 55 yards (2.9-yard average) and thus far no one seems to be complaining.

“When you see guys not complaining about carries I think it moves other guys,” said Whitlock. “I think that’s what so special about this team, we don’t have any I guys, everything is about the logo.

“That’s part of our success so far.”

Reed said that was evident from before training camp even opened and has continued into the season.

“We don’t have to do very much to keep these guys motivated,” he said. “They’re doing the right things.

“They’re in the film room watching films by themselves, as a group, they’re working out after practice, taking care of their bodies so we’re blessed to have that group.”

And the accountability in the locker room is to be envied, he added.

“We know the players are accountable to each other, they’re keeping each other in check,” he said. “They’re making certain guys are doing the right things and when we feel that someone is walking out of line a bit the guys are quick to reel him back in.”

The Eskimos will be without defensive end Greg Peach, who had knee surgery this week. His spot will also be filled somewhat by committee with newcomer Robert Henderson and rookie Jermaine Reid, who has been rotated into the line through the first four games to keep the line fresh, expected to get the most plays there.

“We do know we have depth,” Reed said of the defensive line. “We expect Henderson to step in… and be more than adequate and ready to compete at a level that will help us win. Reid has done an admirable job for us and we expect that to continue.”