Sidelined after the first game of the season, Ryan Lankford will sub for an injured slotback Weston Dressler Friday night as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the Ottawa Redblacks.
Lankford, who had a solid spring camp but didn’t show enough in his first game to stick, is excited to get back on the field and doesn’t lack confidence in his ability to fill some big shoes.
“If that wasn’t the situation I wouldn’t be here now,” he said after Thursday’s walkthrough.
“I think that the coaching staff fully believes in my capabilities and that’s why they put me in this situation.”
He played two seasons in Saskatchewan before joining the Bombers in 2017.
Dressler, with 28 catches for 319 yards this season, has been placed on the six-game injured list, but coach Mike O’Shea isn’t saying how long he really expects the veteran favourite target of quarterback Matt Nichols to be out.
“I’m handling it a week at a time,” said Lankford. “I’m happy to be in this situation because last week I wasn’t.”
He also says he doesn’t feel rusty after plenty of high-intensity practices with the team even when he wasn’t on the starting list.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a little different in the speed of the game but it’s nothing that I haven’t done before.”
With three wins in a row, Winnipeg’s fortunes have definitely been looking up as they reach the midpoint of the CFL season.
“They’re the hot team, I think we’re a hot team right now, it’s two hot teams combining for a hot day . . . It’s going to be a lot of hotness,” said Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris with a laugh.
Harris has been pretty hot himself this season and leads the league in rushing with 720 yards in 121 carries.
Harris is a Winnipeg native and Ottawa has a hot (almost) hometown boy as well, in the person of rookie kicker Lewis Ward. He leads the CFL in accuracy at 96.2 per cent, has hit 25 out of 26 and set a rookie record of 22 in a row.
“You just have to do your part in the game and try to be a difference maker,” said Ward, who was born in Kingston, Ont., but played his university football for the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Neither O’Shea nor Ottawa coach Rick Campbell were beating their chests Thursday over their records so far but both said things are going in the right direction.
“We’re on our way but we certainly haven’t arrived yet,” said O’Shea.
“It’s all right, It gives us a chance,” said Campbell. “This will be our ninth game of the year and, as you head into the second half of the season, it puts us in the mix.”
There are similarities beyond their records. Both teams have struggled at times to hold onto leads, for example.
Earlier this month, Ottawa failed against the Toronto Argonauts, letting what had looked like a sure win slip away by a point.
Last week the Bombers defence managed to hold off a rally by Hamilton that threatened to kill a Winnipeg win.
And there are differences.
Winnipeg leads the league in average points scored per game but quarterback Nichols has struggled at times with his accuracy.
So far this season he has completed 83 of 135 pass attempts for just 61.5 per cent. He missed three games due to injury, however.
Ottawa is well down the list on points scored but quarterback Trevor Harris has hit 205 out of 297 passing attempts for 69 per cent, the best of any starting pivot this season.
Last week, Harris completed 44 of 54 passes and was just one completion short of the CFL record of 45 set by Henry Burris in 2015.