Edmonton Elks ready to get Wilder as team’s leading rusher is finally in camp

Edmonton Elks' James Wilder Jr. (32) is tackled by B.C. Lions' Adam Konar (31) during the second half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, on Thursday August 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

It took a few more days than either side wanted but the Elks welcomed their leading rusher from the 2021 CFL season back to Edmonton on Wednesday morning at training camp.

James Wilder Jr. arrived in camp after dealing with some travel issues at the U.S.-Canada border, including his one-year old son needing a passport to enter Canada.

Wilder, who finished third in the CFL in rushing last season with 770 yards, said he is doing his best to catch up.

“You can prepare all you want to, but once you get into camp it’s different,” he said. “You’re going hard and competing, your legs are going to get tired, you can’t prepare especially with a camp run by (Elks head coach and general manager) Chris Jones.

“I definitely missed out on the physical side, but mentally, the coaches did a great job of keeping me in the loop with all of the plays.”

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Jones said a veteran like Wilder Jr. should be able to catch up pretty fast despite missing some time.

“They are veterans — they’re veterans for a reason — and they’re good players who have been in different organizations over the course of their careers,” he said.

“They’ve been there and done that a number of times, so they should be able to catch up pretty quickly.”

After dealing with a car issue in Montana for three days, receiver Kenny Lawler arrived in Edmonton as well on Wednesday.

At the moment, the Elks and Calgary Stampeders are the only two CFL teams who are able to practise. The rest of the teams are on strike because of stalled labour negotiations towards a new collective bargaining agreement.

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Wilder Jr. said he didn’t want to miss a chance to practise when the rest of the league is sitting at the moment.

“That was the biggest frustration because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity because we may strike,” he said. “I didn’t want to go through all this hassle to miss a practice.

Read more: Edmonton Elks carry on with training camp as timeline for strike looms

Fellow running back Walter Fletcher chipped in with 302 yards last season. He is a player who relies on his quickness and agility while Wilder relies on his power game. Fletcher said he feels he and Wilder complement each other well.

“We do two different things, so when that comes together, it’s pretty powerful,” Fletcher said.

“I’m happy that he’s back and I’m trying to get him up to speed to try and win a Grey Cup.

Elks news and notes

The Elks are starting to feel the injury bug. Jones said about 18 or 19 players are injured, causing him to scale down Wednesday’s training camp session. He took away all one-on-one sessions and had only one 12-on-12 session between the offence and defence instead of two — what Jones likes to call the “double barrel.”

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The Elks will practise Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium. Along with the Calgary Stampeders, the Elks will be in a legal position to strike at 12:25 p.m. on Thursday.

The good news is CJOB’s Kelly Moore tweeted that he is hearing the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association are back to the bargaining table and gaining momentum towards a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Elks made two signings Wedneesday in Canadian receiver Rashaun Simonise and American Malik Sonnier.

Simonise was a star with the U of C Dinos. He was drafted by the Blue Bombers in 2018 in the second round. Has also played for the Lions and Alouettes. He has 182 yards off 10 catches in his CFL career.

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The Elks are scheduled to play their first pre-season game Friday, June 3 in Winnipeg against the Grey Cup champion Bombers.

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