Phillip Hunt and Odell Willis terrorized quarterbacks while they were teammates in Winnipeg a few years ago, combining for some 27 sacks in the 2010 season.
The pair went their separate ways after that outstanding season, but they’ll be reunited Saturday when the Edmonton Eskimos take on the CFL-leading Calgary Stampeders in the back end of their Labour Day home-and-home series.
Hunt failed to catch on in the NFL and was signed by the Eskimos (5-5) this week to fill in for the injured Marcus Howard, who will miss his fourth successive game with a knee injury.
The team is hoping the two ends can recreate some of the magic they had in Winnipeg and help to contain 8-1 Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
But while he’s glad to see Hunt line up once again on defence, Willis said he’s more interested in the entire team playing better than they did on Monday when the Stamps rolled to a dominant 45-24 win in Calgary.
Although he had only two practices, Hunt insists he’s ready to resume his CFL career.
“It was an easy fit in the locker room, with the veteran players and guys I know,” he said at Friday’s practice. “The football world is more connected than people may think. I’m a fan of the game so I know a lot of players. Once I walk into the locker room it’s like I know them personally.”
In Winnipeg, the pair nicknamed themselves Ferrari and Lambo, after the high-powered Italian racing cars. They may not resurrect the names but the six-foot, 248-pound Hunt said they won’t need them because of their competitiveness.
“Odell is always competitive when it comes to sacks and stats and getting off the ball,” he said. “We’re always competing against each other and when you’re competing against the best, you get your best effort.
“It’s all about ball get-off. As a defensive end that’s the main thing, a good takeoff once they hike the ball. We named ourselves Ferrari and Lambo just to remind ourselves, every play that’s how we should be getting off the ball.”
Getting off the ball is only part of the problem when it comes to containing Mitchell, who passed for 380 yards on Monday when the Stampeders put up just under 500 yards of offence, their highest output this season. The Eskimos did get pressure on the Calgary quarterback but Mitchell easily scrambled out of the pocket, creating plenty of time for him to compete 25 of 32 passes.
As defensive ends, Hunt and Willis face most of the responsibility for keeping Mitchell in the pocket and, in the words of head coach Jason Maas, “making him uncomfortable.”
There’s no secret to doing that, said Willis.
“We just have to eliminate our mistakes,” he said. “It’s no secret ingredient, just eliminate your mistakes and play football.”
The Stamps will be looking for their eighth straight win while the Eskimos are trying to keep pace with the third-place 6-4 Blue Bombers.