An ankle injury to running back Jeremiah Johnson has created an opportunity for some B.C. Lions to step up, and coach Wally Buono says he wants his players further down the depth chart to be ready to impress.
Johnson went down in the first quarter of the Lions 20-17 come-from-behind victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
The 31-year-old, who has rushed for 222 yards and scored two touchdowns so far this season, is getting rehab and is “very doubtful” for Friday’s match against the Redblacks in Ottawa, Buono said. He added that the coaching staff will have high expectations of whoever ends up being tasked with filling in for Johnson this week.
“We’ve talked to all the players about when you get tapped on the shoulder, we expect big things for you,” he said. “That’s why they’re here and they have to understand their role.”
Returner Chris Rainey stepped in to help after Johnson left the game Saturday, and amassed 43 rushing and 71 receiving yards. He also tallied three punt returns for 51 yards and three kickoff returns for another 81.
Playing dual roles was “a lot,” Rainey said, but he was happy to help his team gut out a win in a “heart-dropping game.”
The 30-year-old said Monday that he’s been bugging Buono for four years about getting more chances to play running back – his favourite position.
Rainey was filling the role for the University of Florida when the team won the 2008 Southeastern Conference Championship. He said he consistently reminds Buono of the accomplishment.
“He always says ‘special teams,”’ Rainey said with a laugh.
No lineup decisions have been finalized for Friday’s game, Buono said, but he doesn’t expect Rainey’s role to change much.
“He did a fine job for us on Saturday, but our return game is still a big part of what we want to do,” the coach said. “And I think if you tax someone too much, injuries are usually the outcome.”
Buono has said the Lions special teams have been a highlight in B.C.’s first four games of the season.
They’re good at injecting a much-needed spark, Rainey said, adding that he believes the special teams still have more to contribute.
“We haven’t been in the end zone yet, but we’re getting close,” he said.
The Lions will likely look to Brandon Rutley to help at running back, Buono said, adding that he’s a “good, physical back.”
“And on the road, you want those kind of guys,” he added.
The Lions acquired Rutley from the Montreal Alouettes in January, but he has yet to play for the team.
The 30-year-old has run for 1,243 yards and four touchdowns on 248 carries over 35 career regular-season contests between stints with the Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Rainey said he’s ready, no matter what happens.
“You never know what they’re going to do,” he said. “You never know if it’s next man up or all that kind of stuff. So I’m prepared for it either way.”