Ed Tait is a writer for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This article was originally published at BlueBombers.com.
It is the story that keeps on giving and continues to make headlines across the Canadian Football League.
Every carry, every reception, pushes Andrew Harris towards becoming the first player in the league’s long and storied history to finish a season with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.
That story angle came up this week in Vancouver as the B.C. Lions prepared for Saturday’s showdown at Investors Group Field against the Bombers and the their former teammate in Harris.
“What we did with him here out of the backfield is what they’re doing with him over there, but they’re doing it times 10,” Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian told bclions.com. “Screens, draws… whatever. He’s their go-to weapon and he’s shown why he is capable of being the No. 1 target for that team. He’s done a good job.”
“(Bombers offensive coordinator) Paul LaPolice has done a great job of integrating him into the offence,” added Lions GM and head coach Wally Buono.
“Andrew is one of the best backs ever in this league, as far as being a pass receiver. I think he’s running harder, he’s running more physical and that’s the confidence he’s built.”
The Harris 1K-1K pursuit continues to be a story here in Winnipeg, not just from a historical context, but particularly after the loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and a night in which he had only nine touches – tying his lowest total in his 29 games as a member of the Bombers (the other nine-touch game came in a contest in which he was injured last year).
There were some extenuating circumstances, of course, not the least of which was Matt Nichols exiting the game at halftime after suffering a hand injury and how the Ticats managed to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Harris, for his part, has been more concerned after the game and in the days since about how the Bombers had been punched in the mouth and didn’t effectively respond.
The subject of managing the team goals versus the 1K-1K pursuit came up earlier this week in one of head coach Mike O’Shea’s media sessions and Harris, to his credit, hasn’t been publicly pushing his historic chase.
“You just go with the game, right?,” he said after practice Thursday. “Some games the ball comes to you a lot more, you see the game and the game slows down and you’re able to accumulate yardage and make plays. And some days it’s a fight.
“Hopefully I can help the team and create yardage and get to that point. But again, it’s about getting wins now and this is a big game for us. To eliminate a team, that’s big for us, and possibly securing second place is huge for us, too. That’s the ultimate goal right now.”
Harris, just FYI, has 819 yards rushing and 783 yards receiving with four games left in the regular season. He would need to average 45.25 yards rushing and 54.25 yards receiving to reach the 1K-1K total.
He has finished with under 46 yards rushing in six games this year and under 55 yards receiving in seven games.
The Bombers completed their final full practice today in advance of Saturday’s home date with the B.C. Lions at Investors Group Field.
Here is the news of the day before the team has its walk-through on Friday…
Matt Nichols threw for the third consecutive day on Thursday and continues to show no ill effects of the hand injury or from wearing a partial glove on his throwing hand.
RB/SB Timothy Flanders has not practised all week and would have to be seen as doubtful. Both DE Trent Corney and FB Mike Miller have been back at work and are expected to play.
WR Darvin Adams was in uniform, but did not participate in practice. He did say afterward, “I’m feeling great man, and ready for the game on Saturday. No issues at all.”
The injuries to the receiving corps – Weston Dressler is out and now possibly Flanders – along with Adams taking a knee on Thursday meant the No. 1 offence featured Clarence Denmark, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Matt Coates, Ryan Lankford, and occasionally, L’Damian Washington.
Washington hasn’t played since July 13th and has four catches for 59 yards and one TD this season.
“It’s not easy,” said O’Shea when asked about Washington’s patience while waiting on the practice roster. “Once again, I think it goes back to their professionalism and also a credit to the coaching staff. They make sure they’re trying to give the player what he needs so that he can keep confidence and come out and practise every day.
“It isn’t easy to come to work every day when you’ve had a taste up on the roster… even when you’re sitting back and you haven’t had your shot yet this year. They’ve got to have that character and that mindset that they are working toward something. They’ve got to rely on the coaching staff for feedback and information that allows them to get better every week even if they’re not stepping on the playing field on game day.
“They’ve got to rely on their teammates and focus on that sort of joy of the privilege of playing football and being on a professional football team.”
Bombers DE Jamaal Westerman, who has been shut down for the season after suffering an upper body injury in the Banjo Bowl, returned to the team on Thursday after returning home to spend some time with his family. He was sporting a brace on his left arm.
“He’s going to help us win some games, I know it,” said O’Shea. “He’s always in tune. Always since Day 1 in training camp when he first got here, we talked about how he looked different in terms of his professionalism, his work ethic and how he was always squeezing more into any down time. Whether it was stretching or working out or film, he was always getting a little bit more. I think he’s passed that on to the guys around him and he will certainly be a great benefit to have back here in the fold.”
O’Shea said the team will not release the extent of Westerman’s injury publicly.
“It’s the policy, we don’t talk about players’ injuries,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in the benefit of any player to discuss their injuries and I don’t want to be the one to do it. Maybe at the end of the year we can talk about it, but right now, that’s not what we do and I don’t want to break from that.”
O’Shea also touched on the notion that the loss against the Ticats could be seen as a blessing in disguise given its timing; the theory being it’s better to lose now and refocus rather than drop a playoff game in November.
“It’s really hard to think of it like that… I don’t know if we needed a wake-up call,” he said. “I don’t think we weren’t doing the right things. I don’t think the practice week was any indicator; I don’t think there was any indicator we were going to come out and not play well. Every opponent has the opportunity to beat you every single week and I also believe they know that.”
Andrew Harris said Thursday he is still in contact with many of his old pals from his days with the Lions, including Ronnie Yell, Ryan Phillips and Manny Arceneaux.
But any kind of extra buzz he might get from lining up against his old team also wore off last season.
“It’s definitely in the rearview mirror,” he said. “I feel at home now and that’s the biggest part. Obviously I still have friends and there’s connections and stuff there. That’s where I got my start and there were a lot of great years there. But I feel at home here and I honestly can’t see myself wearing anything but blue and gold right now.
“There’s still friendships and there’s still connections there. At the end of the day, that’s the beautiful thing about this game – you create friendships and relationships and some of those last the rest of your life. It’s great to play against old foes and ex-teammates and it just makes the game fun.”
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