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May 16, 2019

Positional Preview | Running Backs

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (Photo: Johany Jutras / CFL)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are scheduled to open training camp on May 19th. This is the sixth installment of our annual positional-preview series leading up to the first day of camp…

RUNNING BACKS

It could be billed as an epic showdown, pitting an undefeated mythical titan against a tough, gritty, man-of-the-people.

And so, time for some introductions…

In this corner, wearing the hearse-black robe and grasping a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other, hailing from no known address and sporting a record of a gazillion and 0… Father Time!

And in the other, sporting a blue and gold Number 33 jersey and the proud product of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada… two-time defending Canadian Football League rushing champion Andrew Harris!

Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmm-ble!!

We open up our sixth instalment in our annual pre-training camp positional preview series looking at the running back position. And, in terms of who might win a starting job or move up the depth chart, there is absolutely no drama or developing storylines here.

Yes, you can write the name Andrew Harris atop your depth chart in permanent ink.

In fact, the only challenge to his gig as the starting running back and the engine that makes the CFL’s top-scoring offence purr will come from Father Time. And Harris, who turned 32 last month, continues to defy odds by landing some big-time punches on the ol’ man.

Consider the following:

  • Harris is coming off the best season of his nine-year CFL career with 1,390 yards rushing in 2018, earning his second consecutive rushing title – the first Bombers tailback to do so since Charles Roberts in 2005-06.à
  • He has not missed a single game over the last two seasons and just three in total since joining the Bombers in 2016.
  • In his three years with his hometown Bombers since signing here as a free agent in 2016, he has been named the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian each season, won the two rushing crowns, has been named a CFL All-Star each season, was the 2017 CFL Most Outstanding Canadian, set a new league record for receptions by a running back in a single season with 105 in ’17, and last year moved past Ken Ploen into 10th place on the Bombers all-time rushing yardage list.

And in the process, Harris has muscled himself into the discussion of this franchise’s all-time great running backs, along with Roberts, Leo Lewis, Willard Reaves, Jim Washington and Gerry James.

In fact, let’s take this one step further just to put a bow on all this: the good people sculpt the busts for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame might as well get a head start on things by chiselling out one for Harris.

Now, all of this isn’t to say the Bombers haven’t prepared for a possible Plan B behind Harris.

The club used its second round selection, 14th overall, in the 2019 CFL Draft to grab another hometown back cut from the same cloth as Harris in Brady Oliveira, who – like the incumbent – attended Oak Park High School and then ventured south to star at the University of North Dakota. He is a bulldozer of a runner and is eager to show off his receiving skills both through training camp and into the season.

The Bombers also have more Canadian depth in Johnny Augustine, the former Guelph Gryphons star who earned a gig in training camp last year and attacks the line of scrimmage on each run like it could be his last.

There is also an import option in camp in Larry Rose III, who rushed for 4,558 yards in four years at New Mexico State before NFL looks from the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams.

The interesting wrinkle in all this comes courtesy Nic Demski – the other Oak Park product on the roster. A slotback, Demski also carried the rock 34 times last year for 248 yards – as sparkling 7.3-yard average – and gives the Bombers that option should Harris need a breather.

The offence rarely showcases schemes with a fullback on the field, but when offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice does go with that look, the Bombers have veteran Mike Miller – the special-teams ace who is an underrated athlete – at that spot, along with converted linebacker John Rush.

In summation, all of this is to say the Bombers have a future hall of famer in their backfield and the depth and option available behind him. In the meantime, everyone in Bomber Nation expect Harris to go toe-to-toe with Father Time for a few more rounds at the very least.


A LOOK AT THE RUNNING BACKS

The Returnees:

Running backs: Andrew Harris*, Johnny Augustine*
Fullbacks: Mike Miller*, John Rush*
CFL free-agent additions: none
CFL newcomers: Larry Rose III
2019 CFL Draft picks: Brady Oliveira (2nd round, 14th overall)
Departed: Timothy Flanders (unsigned), Kienan LaFrance (Saskatchewan).

*Indicates Canadian

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Brady Oliveira

It was a long-held belief in these parts that when the tread started to finally wear on Andrew Harris’ tires, that the Bombers would simply then turn to an import to fill his cleats. That could still be the plan. But in Oliveira the team has at least given itself the option of staying Canadian at the tailback spot.

X FACTOR

Johnny Augustine

Augustine was one of the feel-good stories at the start of last season, having earned a spot with the club after an impressive training camp that included an eight-carries-for-81-yards-and-a-TD performance in the preseason. He got to be the feature back in the regular season finale, stepping in after Harris had secured the rushing title to rush seven times for 51 yards and a score.

NOTABLE NUMBER | 230

Andrew Harris has pulled in 230 passes in his three years as a Bomber, an average of 76.7 receptions per year. That’s more than any other Bomber player, with Darvin Adams second over that span at 188, and demonstrates how vital that component that aspect of his game is to the club’s offence.