No one has been more important to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in recent years than running back Andrew Harris.

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This article was published 19/10/2021 (219 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No one has been more important to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in recent years than running back Andrew Harris.

Harris has led the CFL in rushing the last three seasons and brings an energy to the club that few can match. So, when he went down with a knee injury in the first half of Friday's win over the Edmonton Elks, and didn't return for the final two quarters, there was some major cause for concern.

That concern didn't exactly go away on Tuesday, as the Bombers returned to practice ahead of Saturday's home tilt with the B.C. Lions and Harris wasn't able to join. He's been limited at workouts all season, while battling through other injuries, so it's unclear what his status currently is. The Bombers have a closed practice Wednesday, so there will likely be few details about his condition, beyond daily injury reports, until later this week.

"I don't think any player is 100 per cent; from the second day of training camp on, there's not a player out there that’s 100 per cent anymore," Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said. "They're all getting the most out of their bodies, whatever that percentage is."

Wherever Harris is at physically, with the Bombers boasting a 9-1 record and a win Saturday away from clinching the West Division, the question of whether he can play should be asked along with whether he needs to play. There are still four more games remaining and while a win this weekend would seal the division, any victory this year or loss by the Saskatchewan Roughriders would achieve the same.

Given how important Harris is to the team, it seems almost irresponsible to play him if he's not fully healed. Especially with the Bombers heading out on the bye week after Saturday's game.

"The question is, will they run the risk of further injury if they take the field? And that's the question you have to answer," O'Shea said. "Whether or not the player thinks he can go or not, and whether we think he can go or not, it’s based on medical advice, that's how you make those decisions."

That decision might be a tougher one if not for No. 2 running back Brady Oliveira. Oliveira came in to relieve Harris against the Elks, chewing up the field to the tune of 16 carries for 105 yards. He also caught all three of his targets, totalling nine yards.

The 24-year-old is ready and willing to earn more playing time; Oliveira showed flashes while starting the first three games with Harris injured, including a 126-yard rushing performance in a season-opening win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"Whenever my number is called upon I hope to go in there take it play by play and go out there and execute and that’s exactly what I did. You never know when it’s going to happen, so you’ve just got to make sure that you stay ready," Oliveira said.

"Especially coming off the bench like that and not fully warm. It’s sometimes hard, mentally, to stay in it when you’re on the sidelines. I make sure I do."

Part of that process, Oliveira said, includes following No. 2 quarterback Sean McGuire up and down the sidelines as he calls out the offensive plays. That's to keep him mentally sharp, with riding the bike and throwing the ball around while the defence is on the field makes sure Oliveira is physically prepared to go.

Oliveira received all the reps Tuesday with the first-team offence. He hasn't been told whether he'll start but is preparing as if he'll get the nod.

"If that’s what happens, then I’ll be ready. Me being a natural competitor, I want to start," he said. "I know my abilities and I want to go out there and help my team win football games. Whatever that looks like for me, whether it’s starting on Saturday, getting some reps on offence, or playing special teams."

O'Shea was asked about the luxury of having a backup plan like Oliveira, not only from a production standpoint but the fact he's also Canadian, raised in Winnipeg just like Harris, so he won’t have to tweak the ratio. Oliveira was selected by the Bombers in the second-round, 14th overall in the 2019 CFL Draft following a standout collegiate career at the University of North Dakota.

"Well, we drafted him for a reason, and we like our depth with him and Johnny (Augustine). Brady's gotten more of an opportunity this year because of training camp and the way he came out of camp, carrying the load there," O'Shea said.

"Obviously, Brady played extremely well, coming on for Andrew in the game and that's the expectation he has of himself and the expectation that’s on him from his teammates, right? So, we believe that with that depth that they'll step in and do a great job. For Andrew's sake, this is why you have teammates, right? They're prepared and Andrew does a great job at helping their preparation, too."

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.