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This article was published 11/7/2017 (1395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In an attempt to establish what exactly is behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ rushing woes through the first two games of the season, what transpired following Tuesday’s practice at Investors Group Field was a healthy dose of the blame game. Every interview began and ended in a similar fashion: with the subject pointing straight into the mirror when identifying a culprit, followed by a promise to be better.
Andrew Harris, the Bombers’ starting tailback and biggest piece of the team’s run game, believed the onus fell on him to improve. After all, he’s the man carrying the ball and is the first one to earn praise when times are good. It was only fair that he felt compelled to face the music.
"At the end of the day, I need to be better at the run game and I haven’t been performing like I should be," Harris said. "I need to step my game up and be better with the reads I’ve been making and just be more consistent."
Harris, 30, has averaged close to 100 yards of offence in both games this season. For most players, that’s a total that would be considered a great day at the office. But only 89 of those yards have come on the ground. If he can improve on his numbers, Harris said, then it should help other areas of the offence that might be struggling or not reaching their full potential.
Harris finished third in rushing last season, totalling 974 yards. Ahead of him was Jerome Messam (1,198) of the Calgary Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts’ Brandon Whitaker (1,009), both of whom played three more games than Harris. At this juncture of his career, it’s also a point of pride for Harris to be among the best rushers in the CFL. That respect, he said, has wavered in recent weeks.
"Right now, teams are dropping out and they’re not respecting the run game like they should. Our offensive line has been playing great, they’ve been doing their job and I need to be better."
The Bombers’ O-line is coming off a breakout season in 2016. Once prone to giving up too many sacks and plugging rather than clearing holes for runners, the front five proved to be among the best in the CFL last year. They limited pressure on quarterback Matt Nichols, giving him enough time to make smart decisions and move the ball downfield. Harris, then just weeks into his first season in Winnipeg, raved about the chemistry he had with the O-line, even suggesting during May’s training camp he felt destined, with another year under this group, to improve his numbers from last season.
But when Jermarcus Hardrick was asked Tuesday about the run game, the right tackle wasn’t in the mood for being patted on the back. Like Harris, he preferred to shoulder the blame.
"It’s not been good enough yet and we’re not making enough holes," Hardrick said. "But things are early in the season and I know we’re angry about it and we want to get better.
"From the last couple games I wouldn’t say we’ve been playing bad, but it’s not what we expected for Andrew," he added. "I’m excited to get there. I know we can’t talk about it, we’ve got to be about it. That’s the approach we’ve got to take."
Not to be outdone, Marty Costello, after hearing what Hardrick and Harris had to say, made it clear who was to blame: it was on him, of course.
Costello is in his first season as the O-line coach, replacing Bob Wylie after spending last season as an assistant.
"It all starts with me, to be honest with you. I need to put them in a better situation, whether that be planning a better play or doing a better job teaching them," Costello said, adding most of what he’s identified with his group are minor issues such as improving footwork. "Every day I watch, I see that we’re extremely close and we’re getting to where we need to be. I wish it would have happened a couple of weeks ago, but we’re just going to keep doing what we do and it’s going to pay dividends here hopefully sooner rather than later."
Harris said he didn’t have a preferred number of touches he’d like per game. In a 43-40 overtime win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he carried the ball 13 times for 57 yards. He had just 10 runs for 32 yards in a 29-10 loss to the Stampeders on Friday.
"Any time you have your running back heavily involved in the game, whether it’s receiving or rushing, it just opens up the stuff over the top," Harris said.
If the results from last year suggest anything, the more Harris touches the ball the better the Bombers fare. Last season, Winnipeg was 6-1 when Harris had at least 13 carries in a game. The better the offence is playing the more time the Bombers will have the ball and the more Harris will touch the ball, said offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice.
"You want Andrew Harris to touch the ball because he’s a productive player," LaPolice said. "We get him to a number, whether it’s screen passes, downfield throws, checkdowns or run the ball. I certainly want to hit 10-yard clips every time we get it. I just know that’s not a reality.
"We spoke to it in our meetings, this is a 70 per cent pass the football league, so to say you’ve got to get the run game going, I think it’s part of what you have to do," LaPolice said. "You can’t be one-dimensional is the point."
Given that teams are throwing much more than running, LaPolice was asked if there was even a point in using the run game. The Bombers’ opponents Thursday at Investors Group Field, the Toronto Argonauts, average the second-fewest rushing yards per game with 40.3, and they currently sit atop the East Division at 2-1. The Montreal Alouettes average the most at 98 yards per game — and if it hadn’t been for the Roughriders missing a makeable, last-second field goal in Week 1, the Alouettes would be 0-3 instead of 1-2.
"We believe in running the football and we practise running the football and it’s important to us. We spend a lot of time on how to run the football," LaPolice said. "Some teams, they kind of throw it every play. I like our approach because we know if there’s a game we have to take it over in the run game, hopefully we can do that."
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After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.