August 1, 2017

Harris on Record-Setting Pace | August 1 Recap

Andrew Harris (33) and Jackson Jeffcoat (94) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the locker room before the game against the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Drag your finger down the list of the Canadian Football League’s receptions leaders and one name instantly sticks out among the Top 10.

Now it’s not at all that Winnipeg Blue Bombers Andrew Harris doesn’t have the skill set to be tied for second spot on that list with Toronto Argonauts slotback S.J. Green at 37 receptions – two catches behind Ottawa REDBLACKS star Greg Ellingson – it’s just that as a running back, that’s a ridiculously high total through five games of the Canadian Football League season.

In fact, as CFL stats guru Steve Daniel has been tracking for a couple of weeks now, that’s a total that is on pace – yes, yes, it’s early – to break the all-time reception total for a running back in this league of 102, set by Craig Ellis in 1985.

At the very least, the club record for receptions by a running back – 71 by Robert Mimbs in 1991 – is in some serious jeopardy.

First, some of the why behind Harris’ early season uptick in receptions:

“Andrew’s touches are high for three reasons, I would say,” began Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice after practice on Tuesday. “One, we throw him the football. We literally don’t care what the coverage is, we have concepts that receivers would do that we call to Andrew because we think we can get a mismatch.

“Two, some of our run game to tailbacks is classified as a pass. And three, we’ll check the ball down to him when people drop into coverage. Those three things up his catches.”

Harris said the Bombers have also seen more teams drop nine men into coverage in certain situations, choking off deeper passes but leaving underneath check-down passes to him open more frequently. LaPolice said they have seen some of those anomalies from opposition defences, but Harris’ skills as a receiver mean the club wants to get him into as many mismatches as possible. As Matt Nichols said earlier in the week, Harris is so gifted as a pass catcher he could easily line up and be productive as a receiver in this league.

Part of that explains why Harris not only has 37 receptions, but is also second on the team in targets with 42 (Darvin Adams is first at 43). Bring that number up with LaPolice and he downplays it.

“I always tell the guys, ‘I’m not looking at targets at half time or this or that,’” said LaPolice. “If we face a team that played man coverage the entire time, then Andrew’s targets would probably drop. If we decide we’re throwing the ball down the field or see a mismatch, his targets would probably drop.

“But the tailback is still going to be a part of what we do. We’re never going to be a team that throws it 90 percent of the time. We don’t want to limit ourselves in that way.”

Harris has 95 offensive touches through five games – only Calgary’s Jerome Messam with 100, including 87 carries, has more – for an average of 19 per game. Every tailback would like to be busy, but Harris has been around long enough to understand that however the ball is put into his hands is inconsequential if the offence is productive.

That said, even though the Bombers are currently first in offensive points per game at 31.4, he also knows that there will be occasions this season where the run game will be called upon to be a difference maker – whether it’s to take advantage of a defensive weakness, to close out a game with a lead, or when the weather turns nasty and the stakes go up in October or November.

“I’ve had, probably on average, 18-20 touches per game,” said Harris. “It’s not about the touches or the break down, it’s how I can contribute to the offence, whether it’s running, receiving or blocking.

“It’s important to get into a rhythm, but as far as teams have played us so far, we haven’t had to get into a heavy run game right now. As the season goes along, that’s definitely going to be essential and as we get better in that area we’re going to utilize it that much more.

“Right now I’m happy with everything. The coaches are too, so we’ve just got to keep building off it.”

BOMBER REPORT – August 1, 2017

HEAT IS ON: Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall was none too happy with his charges on Tuesday and was still stewing about it afterward when meeting the media.

“We didn’t practise very well,” said Hall. “The effort level was there… I just wasn’t happy.”

Asked about the numbers from the win over Montreal – the Bombers surrendered 495 net yards, including 183 along the ground – and Hall grinned through gritted teeth.

“I wasn’t happy with that,” he said. “I’m happy with the win, but defensively we weren’t consistent enough, too many explosion plays and the explosion plays were fundamental plays – you’ve got to make the tackle, you’ve got to be in the right gap, you’ve got to make the play when you’ve got the opportunity to make the play.

“Overall defensively we haven’t played consistent for four quarters for five games,” Hall added. “You look at it, we’ve played five games and we’ve given up 40 points in three games. To me, if we want to get where we want to be, you can’t play football like that. You’ve got to maintain some kind of consistency… yeah, 40 points (allowed) maybe once or twice in an 18-game schedule. Not three times in a five-game schedule.”

OUCH UPDATE: SB Weston Dressler, LB/DB Brandon Alexander and DB T.J. Heath were again spectators on Tuesday. All three are still questionable for Friday’s game in Ottawa, but have yet to be ruled out by head coach Mike O’Shea.

Linebacker Moe Leggett, meanwhile, has put in a second good day of work after missing two games.

“Moe practiced and is starting to look really good out there,” said O’Shea. “It looks like he’s got some burst. Brandon Alexander didn’t practice, but we’ll evaluate that tomorrow and see what he can do. Dressler, same thing. Dressler… whether he practices or not, I’m quite willing to let him play. I might let him go right up until the first snap.”

WHEN J.J. SPEAKS, J.J. LISTENS: The CFL named its Top Performers for last week on Tuesday and included among them was Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who had an interception, two sacks and two tackles in just his third start.

“It’s a blessing to be named that in such a great league,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m happy about it, but it’s a 24-hour rule after a game… on to the next one. I’m really focused on beating Ottawa.”

Jeffcoat’s father, in case you missed it, is former Dallas Cowboys star Jim Jeffcoat. His parents were in Winnipeg recently to witness his first start and Jackson checks in with his dad after every game for his thoughts.

“He said it was a good game,” Jeffcoat said. “I played well and made plays when I needed to. He just said keep improving and keep doing what you’re doing and never be content with what you’ve done now because you can always get better, there’s always things you can work on. I watched that film critically and found things I need to improve on.

“His thing is effort, because that was his big positive. He played with effort, he flew around the field.”

Jeffcoat’s progression from the first day of CFL rookie camp to where he is now has been enormous.

“I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “When I first got here, the first day of camp I was a little bit overwhelmed at first. I hadn’t played football in about a year and it was good to be back and playing again but I still had to get used to everything again.

“Now I’m starting to get back into a groove, starting to feel a little better and I’ve just got to keep growing from there.”

McDUFFIE TO OTTAWA: Former Bomber receiver/returner Quincy McDuffie signed a two-year deal with the REDBLACKS on Tuesday. He attended spring camp with the Dallas Cowboys before his release and the Bombers had been in contact with his agent.

“Sometimes you can’t get guys in,” said O’Shea. “I think Ryan Lankford has already scored on a kick-return touchdown this year and he’s going to do well for us when he gets in to play receiver. He’s fast, smart… there’s no complaints with our roster.

“Quincy is a guy that was here and you certainly kick the tires and see what that’s going to look like. I don’t know what he commands, but I’m sure it’s top dollar. He’s a good football player.”