James Wilder Jr. is hoping to get a little physical with the Ottawa Redblacks on Monday night.
Wilder will get the start at running back for the Toronto Argonauts (2-2) in place of veteran Brandon Whitaker. Whitaker is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing campaign last year but has run for just 66 yards on 22 carries (three-yard average) this season.
Wilder also has 66 rushing yards in his first CFL season but on 14 carries (4.7-yard average). The six-foot-three, 226-pound Wilder is a bigger presence than the five-foot-10, 200-pound Whitaker and that could be a factor considering Ottawa (1-3-1) is playing its third game in 11 nights and for the fourth time in 18 days.
“James has certainly shown us flashes,” Toronto head coach Marc Trestman said. “His No. 1 job is to make sure Ricky (Argos starter Ricky Ray) is protected and take care of the football when he gets that opportunity.
“We hope he will and do something with it.”
Wilder has plenty to offer Toronto’s offence. He’s big enough to take on either linebackers or defensive linemen in pass protection and is certainly a load to bring down on rushing plays although CFL running backs traditionally get the ball much less than they do south of the border.
“It’s more a passing league than a running league,” Wilder said. “It’s a little harder to get that rhythm so you have to take advantage of every carry you get but you also have to stay disciplined not to try to do too much on those limited carries.”
Wilder can also present mismatches coming out of the backfield on passing downs or even lining up in the slot opposite a linebacker. Getting Wilder the ball both as a runner and receiver could help Toronto’s offence systematically wear down Ottawa’s defence.
Trouble is, Toronto features a predominantly passing offence. The Argos boast the league’s top aerial attack (382.3 yards per game) but are last in rushing (37.8 yards per game).
Then again, Ottawa’s defence is allowing a league-worst 5.8 yards per rushing attempt this season.
Wilder, who played collegiately at Florida State, joined the Argos this season after spending time in the NFL with Cincinnati and Buffalo. His father, James Sr., was an NFL running back for 10 seasons with Tampa Bay, Washington, and Detroit, rushing for 6,008 yards in 129 career games.
The elder Wilder remains Tampa Bay’s career rushing leader with 5,957 yards and 37 TDs over nine seasons (1981-89).
Monday night’s game is important to both teams. Ottawa is coming off a 24-19 win over Montreal on Wednesday night and could move atop the East Division with another victory.
“To be honest with you, we did a lot of good things against Montreal,” Ottawa defensive co-ordinator Mark Nelson said. “First of all, we held them to under 20 points and if you do that you have a chance to win.
“We got some turnovers (five) which we hadn’t been getting this season.”
Toronto won the first meeting on July 8, rallying from a 12-1 half-time deficit for a 26-25 win at TD Place.
Toronto hasn’t played since 33-25 road loss to Winnipeg on July 13 and enters action Monday tied with the Alouettes (2-3) for first in the East. And the Argos are about to feel Ottawa’s pain as Monday night’s game begins a stretch of four matchups in 19 days.
“This is just part of our league,” Trestman said. “I know Rick (Ottawa head coach) is certainly saying the same thing to his guys . . . each and every team goes through this process.”
Toronto will visit the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday night before hosting the Calgary Stampeders on Aug. 3. Then the Argos will have eight days off before facing the Alouettes in Montreal.
Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris – who began his CFL career with Toronto in 2012 – comes in as the league leader in passing yards (1,755) and TDs (10). His favourite target is Greg Ellingson, who’s tops in receiving yards (584) on 36 catches (16.2-yard average) with two TDs while Canadian Brad Sinopoli is fourth (34 receptions, 415 yards, two touchdowns).
Toronto counters with a defence that’s ranked first overall in sacks (14), second in fewest rushing yards allowed (65.3 per game) and third in offensive points (21.5 per game) and passing yards (289.5).
But Toronto had no sacks against Winnipeg and allowed two rushing TDs.
NOTES: Toronto will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its 1996-97 Grey Cup-winning teams Monday, with former quarterback Doug Flutie among the former players scheduled to attend. Flutie will also be formally inducted as an All-Time Argo member.