With a traditional Labour Day clash with the Calgary Stampeders looming, the Edmonton Elks are likely relishing a return to some normalcy.
After having their season temporarily disrupted by a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, the Elks are set to play their first game in over two weeks when they visit McMahon Stadium on Monday.
Edmonton (1-2) was forced to postpone last week’s scheduled visit to Toronto after 13 players tested positive for the coronavirus. The Elks were finally cleared to resume practicing Wednesday, though 11 players remained in COVID-19 protocol as of Thursday.
That group includes a few notable contributors in wide receivers Derel Walker (team-high 16 receptions) and Shai Ross and defensive captain Aaron Grymes, the Elks’ second-leading tackler. Their status for Monday’s matchup may not be determined until game day, which creates another challenge as coach Jaime Elizondo and his staff try to prepare for an important divisional game after a 10-day pause in activity.
“You look at losing this many days of practice and you have to look at what we can do better and change some things internally,” Elizondo said. “When you go through something like this, you re-evaluate.”
One player definitively out is former starting left guard Jacob Ruby, released Tuesday after breaching league protocols by reportedly lying about his vaccination status. The CFL later declared Ruby ineligible to sign with any team for the remainder of the season for the violation.
“We’ve been thrown a couple of loops,” Elizondo remarked. “This will define the character of our team. All these things are challenging the character of our team.”
The Elks also lost considerable momentum gained from their best performance of the season, a 21-16 Week 3 road win over the BC Lions that was more one-sided than the score indicated. Edmonton finished with a decided 433-184 advantage in total yards in giving Elizondo his first victory as a head coach.
Calgary (1-3) enters this rivalry game with some issues of its own, namely a tendency to come up short in close contests. The Stampeders’ three losses have been by a combined 11 points and they held a fourth-quarter lead in two of those outings.
“We’ve been one play away from being possibly 4-0,” linebacker Jameer Thurman said. “It’s the little things and the details that we’re lacking. That could have made a difference in the outcome of all these games.”
The Stampeders are also dealing with the absence of starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who fractured his fibula in Week 2. However, the two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player was activated from the injured list this week and practiced Thursday, and it’s possible he could be active for the Labour Day Classic.
Calgary is still expected to start rookie Jake Maier, who’s impressed in two starts filling in for Mitchell with back-to-back 300-yard passing efforts. The 24-year-old engineered a late go-ahead drive during last week’s 18-16 loss to Winnipeg, in which the Blue Bombers went back ahead on a field goal with 37 seconds left.
“The way Jake has been playing, I have 1,000 per cent confidence to let him go out there and do what we need to do in order to win the game,” Mitchell said.
The Stampeders have been doing a lot of winning lately in this series, as they’ve prevailed in eight straight Labour Day Classics against Edmonton dating back to 2012. The Elks have also dropped six straight in Calgary since last winning there in October 2015.