Figurs finding his niche in Eskimos locker-room

EDMONTON – As you scan the Edmonton Eskimos locker-room, the groupings become evident.

For the most part, the oblong-shaped room is sectioned off by position. The defensive backs are in one area; the receivers sit on the opposite side. The quarterbacks — Steven Jyles, Matt Nichols and Kerry Joseph — are together, while the defensive line weighs down its own place beside the DBs.

The only stall in the room that seems genuinely out of place belongs to Yamon Figurs. The five-foot-11, 189-pound wide receiver and punt returner sits with the offensive linemen, looking like a broken chunk of rock in Stonehenge.

“There were no more lockers left on (the receivers) side, so I’m over here with the O-linemen,” Figurs said, laughing. “But they’re talking to me and I’m learning a lot from them.”

The 29-year-old Figurs said his new pals are trying to make him one of them.

“They always get on me, telling me I need to eat,” he said.

He’ll politely pass on their buffet offers, though, if we wants to keep the job that landed in his lap last week.

Figurs spent the majority of the past month on the stationary bike on the sidelines nursing a knee injury. On Saturday, against the Toronto Argonauts, he went from being a cut-down day victim on June 24, to being re-signed by the Canadian Football League club, to the starting lineup in the season opener.

Figurs had a modest 20 yards on five punt returns in the Eskimos’ win. If anything, it’s a starting point for a guy whose speed has caught the organization’s attention.

“I took a lot of mental reps in training camp, so when I got there I knew what to do,” said Figurs, who ran a top-ranked 4.31-second 40-yard dash in the 2007 NFL draft combine.

“It wasn’t tough, it was just adapting to what I had to do on the field out there. I slowed the game down a little there and I knew what I had to do.”

Eskimos special teams coordinator Marcello Simmons said that Figurs’ debut — especially considering the circumstances — was a good one.

“It’s pro football, so sometimes you get thrown into the fire and you get your one chance to respond and I think taking into consideration the factors, the obstacles that he’s had since training camp, I think he’s done pretty well.”

Figurs got an idea of what to expect from talking to legendary returner Henry (Gizmo) Williams. The ex-Eskimo was a fixture at training camp and gave Figurs advice wherever he could.

“I was picking his brain, trying to get in his head and see what he knows that I need to know when I’m out there,” said Figurs.

Simmons thinks that Figurs will be worth the month-long wait.

“He is a special player,” said Simmons. “I think he’s been ahead of schedule in regards to the injury he had.

“Everything seems to be right for him and, obviously, with it being his first game, you can’t be too critical about it. There has to be some room for error; not that it’s an excuse, because margins of error can win you a game or lose you a game. That’s taken with a fine line.

“But when you have someone like a Yamon Figurs, there is a period of adjustment. And depending on how long that is, it’s really about whether or not he makes that adjustment and I think he’s on the right track to do so.”

After only one game, Figurs has already found his favourite component of the CFL game.

“It’s a little different here, because they’re flying down at you and you have the five-yard rule,” he said. “They’re coming at you like missiles, but it’s a little different if they have to slow down and give you five yards.”

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