B.C. Lions spoiled for talent at running back
Harris, Mallett both getting the job done
BY MIKE BEAMISH, VANCOUVER SUNOCTOBER 20, 2009[url=http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=2125191&sponsor=]http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print ... 1&sponsor=[/url]
Running back A.J. Harris (right) takes a practice handoff from Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. Both starred in Sunday's 24-21 win over the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files
VANCOUVER — Although Tuesday was a day off for B.C. Lions players, coach Wally Buono was extremely active — at least his mind was, going over the possibilities and permutations for Saturday's game in Regina against the Roughriders.
Quarterbacks Travis Lulay, Casey Printers and Zac Champion are expected to practise Wednesday, Buono says, though it's unlikely sore-shouldered Buck Pierce and Jarious Jackson will be throwing.
"I don't have to make any decisions at this point," Buono said. "We'll wait and see who the healthy guys are. The decision of what 42 players to dress could be different than last week."
Then there's the decision about what to do with Albert John (A.J.) Harris, the Martell Mallett replacement in the backfield who picked up 199 all-purpose yards (running, receiving and returning a kickoff) in Sunday's 24-21 win over the Blue Bombers.
Harris, who scored the winning touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Lulay, deserves another start, though not at the expense of Mallett. The latter merely was the league's No. 2 rusher before a foot/toe injury sidelined him for maintenance reasons.
"He's [Harris] good at everything," Buono says. "He's a good receiver, a good running back and because of his size [6-0, 225] he's a decent blocker. There's nothing about him I don't like."
One more thing to consider: Harris ran for 189 yards in a game last season against the Roughriders, playing for the Eskimos. It was the fifth-highest, single-game rushing total for an Eskimo in the franchise's 60-year history. Who holds the Edmonton single-game rushing record? Why it's Sean Millington, who ran for 225 yards against the Riders on Oct. 30, 1999.
Indeed, Millington also held the Lions single-game rushing record of 212 yards — again, victimizing the Roughriders on Aug. 15, 1997 — before Mallett bettered it by one yard on Sept. 4 against Montreal.
In 2000, the Lions won a Cup with two-horse backfield of Millington and Robert Drummond who, between them, had more than 3,000 combined yards. Millington, the fullback, picked up 1,541 total yards on 195 touches (running and receiving). Drummond, the tailback, had 1,575 yards on 238 touches.
"I think they have the personnel to get it done," says Millington, 41, now a financial adviser with TD Waterhouse in Richmond. "Of course, I'm a little bit biased. I like the idea of two running backs. It's tough to take Harris out after the game he had and Mallett holds the Lions record. When you have two guys like that, it's an embarrassment of riches."
Known as "the Diesel," Millington was an exceptional all-around back whose birth certificate might have been his biggest impediment. He played during an era (1990-2002) when coaches were more close-minded about the possibilities of Canadian feature backs.
"I think there were a lot of coaches at that time not as secure in their jobs and their decision-making who made the perceived safer choice," Millington says. "And that was to go with the more traditional choice of an American back. I don't think it's [a Canadian tailback] a big deal anymore."
Buono also points out that, unlike Millington, Harris and Mallett hold U.S. passports, which might result in some ratio-juggling to get them on the field at the same time. One scenario is to use Harris as a receiver, perhaps deleting Ryan Grice-Mullen, who is struggling both as a returner and receiver, since Harris has surer hands and can return kicks as well.
"I think their [Mallett and Harris] best skills are at running back," Buono says. "I would not value either as a receiver. We have two quality backs who give us depth. We can use one and keep the other guy fresh. That's another scenario we have to study."
It's clear he is interested, maybe even to the point of considering another double whammy, like the one Millington and Drummond posed for defences a decade firstname.lastname@example.org
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