EDMONTON – Shakir Bell, the next man up in the Edmonton Eskimos patchwork running game, gets a chance for an encore performance Saturday, this time against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The five-foot-eight sparkplug from Indiana State University was announced Friday as the starter when the 2-1 Eskimos take on the Bombers at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It feels great. It feels amazing,” Bell told reporters after practice.
“I wouldn’t say I expected it, but it definitely wasn’t something I was surprised about.
“Any chance I get a chance to be special with the ball in my hands I’m going to take it.”
Bell was activated off the practice roster last week for injured Chad Simpson. Simpson in turn had his chance after starter John White tore up is Achilles tendon early in training camp.
With the help of some monster holes opened up by the offensive line, Bell shredded the Ottawa Redblacks in the rain for 144 yards on 18 carries to go with two receptions for 10 yards in Edmonton’s 23-12 win last week.
A lot of those runs required Redblack defenders to join forces to bring Bell to the turf.
Simpson remains on the one-game injured list heading into the game against a 2-2 Blue Bomber team still gnashing its collective teeth over a blown early lead and an 26-25 loss last week to the Calgary Stampeders.
Along with Bell, the Eskimos also have versatile Kendial Lawrence. The 24-year-old Texan is being plugged in as needed at slotback, running back and on special teams.
Through three games Lawrence has 10 catches for 143 yards and two TDs. He has 13 carries for 80 yards and one touchdown running the ball.
Lawrence starred at tailback in college at Missouri, and acknowledged lining up behind the quarterback is his natural position. But he said slotback in the Canadian game opens up opportunities to move the ball.
“It gives you the opportunity to get out in space, kind of go one-on-one with the guy, kind of stretch the field,” said Lawrence.
Edmonton’s passing game will needs to pick up its game in its first test this year against a West Division opponent.
Matt Nichols has been serviceable in his two starts filling in for the injured Mike Reilly at quarterback, but the passing game is bringing up the rear at just 224 average yards per contest.
The Eskimos are also struggling with turnovers. The offence has 11 giveaways: five interceptions and four lost fumbles through three games.
Head coach Chris Jones says there’s no magic solution.
“We’ve emphasized hanging on to the football and taking care of the football at the quarterback position. We’ve just got to stay positive and continue to work,” said Jones.
Quarterback Matt Nichols threw three picks in Ottawa, two in the end zone.
“The main thing is just continuing to take care of the football. That’s the main thing as an offence that we talk about,” said Nichols.
“You can’t really expect to turn the ball over three times in the red zone and win more often than not.”
The Eskimo defence, led by defensive end Marcus Howard and his four sacks, remains the team’s strength.
The D has allowed only one opposition touchdown drive in the last two games.
History is also on Edmonton’s side.
The Bombers have not beaten the Eskimos in Edmonton in almost a decade. The last win at Commonwealth Stadium was July 20, 2006.