It’s bad enough that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be without No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols on Friday night for a first-place showdown with the Edmonton Eskimos. Now there’s some concern about star running back Andrew Harris as well.
Harris suffered an arm injury of some sort while doing a drill with other running backs early on in practice on Tuesday and didn’t participate the rest of that day.
The Bombers held a closed practice on Wednesday and Harris was not made available to the media, an indication that he did not participate.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said the 32-year-old CFL rushing leader “should be good” for the game in Edmonton on Friday, but he has used that language before — particularly in regard to linebacker Adam Bighill earlier in the season — and the player wound up being scratched.
“I feel good about him playing,” O’Shea said.
Asked if Harris participated in practice, all O’Shea would say was “He was out there.”
O’Shea always keeps injuries and potential lineup changes close to the vest, so we’re not likely to know for sure about Harris until game-time on Friday.
If he can’t go, second-year running back Johnny Augustine, also a Canadian, would fill in.
McCALISTER ON MOVE
Alex McCalister was working on the back of a Penske moving truck in Florida when he got the call letting him know the Bombers wanted him back.
The 25-year-old defensive end was a training camp cut of the Bombers, but due to a rash of injuries on the Winnipeg line, he was re-signed this week.
There’s a chance he could be in the lineup Friday night when the Bombers face the Eskimos, working on the opposite side from star defensive end Willie Jefferson.
Jackson Jeffcoat, who normally occupies that position, is on the six-game injured list and Craig Roh, who replaced him, was injured last week and has not practised.
Rookies Jonathan Kongbo and Thiadric Hansen have been filling in but the Bombers liked what McCalister did in training camp.
“I was at home, working 12 hours a day on a moving truck,” McCalister said Wednesday. “It feels like a vacation to come and play football and make plays.
“I wasn’t all the way away from football. I went to the Arena League a couple weeks after I left here, played a few games, had a couple of NFL workouts. I stayed in shape and I’m ready to get called up and make some plays.”
Despite a rash of injuries, the Blue Bombers defensive line had its most productive game of the season last week against the BC Lions.
The Bombers had seven sacks and three forced fumbles, and defensive end Willie Jefferson had a key interception when the game was close.
Even with ends Jeffcoat and Roh out, the Bombers feasted, and tackle Jake Thomas thinks he knows why.
“I had a sack last week where I think Willie took three guys and I went untouched to the quarterback,” Thomas said. “Teams are definitely keying on Willie any time he’s out there. He’s such an explosive player and that definitely opens things up for the rest of us.”
The play of the defensive line is a big reason why the Bombers lead the league against the rush. It seems whomever goes in — last week rookies Kongbo and Hansen were getting regular reps at defensive end — the line excels.
“Ever since training camp they’ve done a really good job of bringing in a lot of good guys,” Thomas said. “Obviously we have some very high-end talent and the drop-off isn’t as drastic as it might have been on other teams in the past.
“Our rotational guys that get in there in certain situations could be THE guys on other teams. We have a lot of great depth and coach Glen Young has done a great job of preparing guys week in and week out.
“It’s just good scheme and everyone is just committed to doing their one-12th of the job. No one’s trying to go out of their way to make plays. If a play comes to them, they’ll make it and everyone is focused on doing their own job.”
Lucky Whitehead still wants to do more kickoff and punt returning for the Bombers, although he’s happy to see Janarion Grant having success in that role.
Whitehead, who has primarily been used as a receiver and has 31 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns, was a kick returner in the NFL and believes he can make a major mark in that area north of the border.
He’s not needed there right now, with Grant having returned two punts for touchdowns already and having a key 56-yard kickoff return against B.C., last week.
“First of all, I would have scored on that kick return,” Whitehead said jokingly.
“He’s a pretty fast guy but I got a different gear. I’m not gonna knock no one but any day he wants to race this whole 110-yard field, we can race it.
“He’s a great player and he’s been tremendous in his first two games.”
Whitehead is ready for whatever the coaches draw up for him.
“Coach is trying to find a way to get me some touches so I’m just being patient, waiting my turn and looking at the bigger picture with another role,” Whitehead said.
He’s also looking forward to working with quarterback Chris Streveler, who can really move around in the pocket and extend plays.
“He might be able to create those big plays down the field with his feet and being able to throw on the run,” Whitehead said. “(The Eskimos) have to respect that as well.
“When he runs around in the backfield, we’ve got to be able to find a way to get open out there in the field.”