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This article was published 27/7/2018 (550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Toronto’s sputtering offence is missing sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray, so it was a considerable relief for Argonauts head coach Marc Trestman to have star running back James Wilder Jr. along on the club’s trip to Winnipeg this week.
The 1-4 Argos face the 3-3 Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field tonight.
Wilder left Wednesday’s practice with a leg injury and his status is still cause for concern.
"We’ll continue to monitor his healing process over the next few hours into tomorrow," Trestman said Thursday afternoon. "We’ll probably work him out before the game and make sure that he’s ready to go. We’re confident he is ,but we’ll let time take its course here."
Wilder, last season’s rookie of the year in the CFL, is currently eighth in league rushing with 220 yards on 51 carries in five games. He was particularly ineffective during Toronto’s 38-20 loss to the Blue Bombers last Saturday, carrying the ball just three times for minus-two yards.
"Wilder is a really good player and you’ve got to respect him no matter how much you’ve seen him," Winnipeg defensive end Tristann Okpalaugo said. "There’s always something else he can do. I mean, there are tendencies he has, but he can break big runs. Our goal is to play our game and limit those (big plays) and just stop him early."
Last week, the Argos were chasing the game early and gave the Blue Bombers defence a tactical edge. It was too late to try to close the gap by running the ball.
"I feel like he didn’t have that many touches and we did a good job of swarming to the ball," Okpalaugo said. "(Defensive co-ordinator) Richie (Hall) put us in really good situations with his play calls.
"But (the Argos) are going to have to change that up and get him involved early this game."
Okpalaugo said part of of the big-bodied Wilder’s skill set is to generate yardage after contact.
"He has the ability to take a hit and ricochet off a hit and put a hand down and gain more yardage," Okpalaugo said. "He’s actually gets more yardage after he gets hit. We’ve got to limit that and gang-tackle and bring him down where he gets hit."
WINNING THE GROUND WAR: Winnipeg’s running attack has been the league’s best and a headache for rival defences thus far, churning out 173.2 yards per game while Toronto’s run defence is third from the bottom, surrendering 133.6 yards per game.
Trestman is curious to see how his team responds in tonight’s rematch after coughing up 184 yards in Week 6.
"Well, when you gain eight yards a run and you can be second and medium as much as they are, you’re going to have a heck of a chance to be able to move the football and get first downs and continue drives and do the things they’re doing," Trestman said.
"They’re playing to their strengths. They’ve got a beautifully designed offence in terms of running and the pass, they can do either very efficiently. You have to stop the run if you want the ball."
The Argos are hoping the return of defensive tackles Dylan Wynn (from suspension) and Cleyon Laing (from injury) will help to solidify the run defence.
"They were averaging 171 yards a game before they met up with us," Trestman said. "When you allow them to continue on drives and you’re on the field as long as you are defensively, it’s what happens. They’re very good up front and they’ve got a very good running back. They execute very well and when they run, it’s very tough to stop them."
FOLLWING A LEGEND: Off-season acquisition James Franklin was the heir apparent to veteran quarterback Ray’s throne, but that succession timetable was probably accelerated with Ray going down with a serious neck injury.
Toronto needs Franklin to be better than last week’s 21-of-36, 151-yard performance.
"Time will tell; he had a winning performance in the first game, beating Edmonton," Trestman said. "He played reasonably well two weeks ago but we’ve gotta get better, playing more efficiently out of our quarterback. It starts there at the quarterback position and James has shown himself to be fairly resilient.
"He’s going through a growing process now, with a new system and new verbiage and really his first time playing a lot of football. I think there’s a lot of reason to believe this growing process will be worthwhile in the end."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.