Winnipeg won’t have its top receiver for its game in Toronto on Saturday, but Argonauts linebacker Bear Woods doesn’t expect the Blue Bombers’ offence to skip a beat.
That’s because versatile Canadian Andrew Harris remains in the Bomber backfield.
Toronto (7-9) hosts Winnipeg (11-4) in its final regular-season game at BMO Field. The five-foot-10, 214-pound Harris will continue his quest to become the first CFL player ever to register 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in the same season.
The 30-year-old Winnipeg native is third overall in rushing with 871 yards (5.3-yard average) and has 94 catches for 816 yards. Harris needs to average 43 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving over the Bombers’ final three regular-season game to achieve the historic milestone.
“The offence runs through him,” Woods said. “I’ve played against him for years and he’s always been this type of back.
“A very capable back who can have an offence run through him and everyone else benefits from that. The offence goes as he goes and it’s always a challenge.”
Both teams have plenty to play for. Toronto is just one point behind front-running Ottawa (7-9-1) in the East Division while a win would earn Winnipeg its first home playoff game since 2011.
Toronto starter Ricky Ray is also approaching a significant milestone. The 15-year veteran, who turns 38 on Friday, needs 336 passing yards to become just the fourth CFL player to crack the 60,000-yard plateau.
The others are Antony Calvillo (79,816), Damon Allen (72,381) and Henry Burris (63,227).
“It’s definitely pretty cool,” Ray said. “But that’s for when I’m done playing to look back and reflect on how lucky I’ve been to play with many great teammates and coaches over the years and be a part of this league for so long.”
Despite his brilliant season, Harris isn’t a one-man show. Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols is fifth overall in passing (4,174 yards) with 27 TDs against just eight interceptions and a lofty 71.1 completion percentage.
Adams (76 catches, 1,120 yards, seven TDs) led Winnipeg’s receiving corps but suffered a shoulder injury in last weekend’s 26-20 win over B.C. He’ll miss the remainder of the regular season and could be out for the playoffs as well.
Fortunately for Winnipeg, veteran receiver Weston Dressler (34 catches, 482 yards, two TDs) returns from the injured list. L’Damian Washington, a six-foot-four, 215-pound rookie from Missouri, will start at wide receiver.
But Woods said the true strength of Winnipeg’s offence is its offensive line.
“Their production as a team starts with the big group of guys,” he said. “They’re big, physical and nasty.
“They were physical with us last time (33-28 Winnipeg home win July 13) and we’re looking forward to this opportunity to get them back.”
Toronto defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is also coming off the injured list but wasn’t celebrating about not having to contend with Adams.
“You definitely have to be aware of Darvin Adams, he’s a top receiver in the league with the type of catches he can make,” he said. “But they also have other guys who can make explosive plays.
“In this league there are new guys coming in all the time who are waiting for opportunities. We can’t relax just because one receiver is out, we have to approach it the same way.”
Winnipeg also lost defensive back Maurice Leggett to a season-ending Achilles injury against B.C. That’s a significant blow for a defence that was already minus standout defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman.
“They’re missing some pretty explosive players so that’s going to affect them a little bit,” Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray said. “But for us, we’ve got to worry about everybody out there.
“They have many other good defensive backs and guys up front who’re able to get pressure on the quarterback.”
Running back James Wilder Jr. returns after missing Toronto’s 30-27 road loss in Edmonton last weekend. Wilder suffered a concussion in a 27-24 loss to Saskatchewan on Oct. 7 and didn’t play against the Eskimos as a precaution despite clearing concussion protocol.
Wilder helped Toronto earn three straight wins from Sept 16-30. He ran for 380 yards on 34 carries with two TDs and added 16 catches for 176 yards over that span before his injury.
“He’s a pretty special player whether it’s running or getting him out into the passing game,” Ray said. “He was the different-maker for us when we won three in a row, he kind of gave us that spark.
“Obviously we expect a good game out of him but everybody else has to play well and do their part.”