‘Technicality takes a back seat to brutality’: Bombers’ o-line, not potential Harris return, is what scares Dickenson

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have listed running back Andrew Harris as a game-time decision ahead of Sunday’s West Final and the future Hall of Famer may be back in the starting lineup for the first time since mid-October.

Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson knows full well what Harris is capable of doing, but he isn’t the part of the Bombers’ offence that scares him.

“I think he’s still an elite running back, there’s no question about it, but it’s the five guys in front of him that really do a great job and sometimes six,” Dickenson said during his pre-game availability Saturday.

The Winnipeg offensive line has been the class of the CFL for several years, but never more so than in 2021. Led by two-time Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Stanley Bryant at left tackle, who is poised to win his third award, the Bombers feature four West Division all-stars up front. Right tackle Jemarcus Hardrick, right guard Patrick Neufeld and left guard Drew Desjarlais all earned honours, while centre Michael Couture was the only member of the group to not make the team. Tui Eli and Geoff Gray have served as the extra linemen at various points this year.

Over the course of the  shortened 14 game regular season, that group has paved the way for three different Canadian running backs and an assortment of other ball carriers to combine 1,676 yards on 319 carries. That’s an average of more 5.25 yards per carry and almost 120 yards per game.

“There’s a phrase we’ve used before, that technicality takes a back seat to brutality in football. If you look at Winnipeg’s offensive line, that’s it to a T,” Dickenson explained. “You can be as technically sound as you want and have as much strategy as you want, but when those five guys get off the ball and drive you that way, it’s a problem.”

When it comes to slowing down Winnipeg’s big boys up front, Dickenson wishes his team good luck, knowing it will take superb individual performances and a few choice bounces to emerge unscathed.

“I do think it’s going to be a battle of wills. If it’s a weightlifting competition, we’re in trouble because they’re big and strong and we’re not gonna be able to hang with them, but it’s not,” Dickenson joked. “We’re hoping that our guys rally and play their best game of their lives tomorrow. It’s going to take that to win, and we’re going to need a break along the way as well and we’re hopeful we can get it.”

That’s not to say to that the coach doubts his team’s ability to match up with the Bombers. The Riders won’t be fleeing from Winnipeg’s big bruisers with their tails tucked between their legs, they’ll be charging forward.

“If we can get a little momentum, we’ve got a good bunch in there too. We’re not afraid of anybody and those guys don’t back down to anybody either,” Dickenson emphasized. “It’s going to be a violent, physical game. It should be a lot of fun.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.