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April 27, 2017

Running On Momentum

A variety of factors led to the BC Lions leading the CFL in rushing yards last season, not the least of which was having two capable backs pounding the rock in Jeremiah Johnson and Anthony Allen.

Johnson carried the load come playoff time and with that came the reward of a two-year contract extension just days after the Western Division Final loss in Calgary.

As day one of April mini-camp came to a close in Surrey it was clear the 2017 backfield could have another solid option to perhaps complement Johnson and occasionally take the load of off number 24.

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Harris (31) goes through drills with the rest of the offence.

Josh Harris and receiver Tyler Davis took the reps. on day one as Amir Carlisle, the only other natural running back on the OTA roster, is dealing with concussion symptoms as the result of a car accident earlier this week. He hopes to practice on Thursday.

Harris looked right at home after being added to the practice roster in last September’s NFL expansion period.

“It felt good. You take a few weeks off once the season comes to an end and then you start training so it is good to be out here with the guys,” said Harris following the 90-minute on field session.

The product of Wake Forest is a traditional back who hits holes hard and can chew up big amounts of yardage at any given time.

By comparison, Carlisle is more of the Chris Rainey-type: plenty of speed and shows versatility with his pass catching and returning capabilities.

Although the chance to claim a roster spot is why he is here, Harris is also just trying to soak it all in and live in the moment.

“Last year in practice I got to go against our starting defence and that helped me get back into the speed of the game. Now I hope to stick around but first I will just try to get in shape and make sure I know all the things I need to learn. As soon as we start training camp, I will focus more on that (earning a spot).”Pittsburgh Steelers running back Josh Harris (40) runs away from Carolina Panthers defensive back Colin Jones (42) in the fourth quarter of a NFL preseason football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

“We know Mr. Harris from last year and we were very impressed with him then and we were very happy to have him re-sign with us again,” said Wally Buono.

“We had Tyler take some reps there and he shows he is a tremendous athlete. We want to have two kinds of backs, a back like Josh who is a great running back and we want one like Rainey who is a good back, a good receiver and a good returner. I think Tyler did that for us.”

One thing Harris does bring to the den is an impressive resume.

After a productive four-year college career he landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a non-drafted free agent and dressed for five regular season games in 2014.

One thing in common he has in BC is playing for a pretty renowned head coach. Harris sees a lot of similarities between Buono and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.

 

“I do. You know what it feels like to be around a coach who has a high amount of a respect like that,” explained Harris.

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Amir Carlisle (47) observes Buono’s post practice address on Wednesday afternoon.

“When you hear something from them you actually hear it. It’s not just some older guy. You really take it to heart.”

Getting to learn the CFL’s all-time wins leader would certainly be an added bonus for any rookie up north. The key for Harris is now to get his attention for two more days of mini-camp.

“The goal is to try to learn as much as I can so I can go full speed when we start camp in a few weeks.”

He has the right mindset. And although it has been a small sample size he, Carlisle and Davis appear to have the right tools as well.

New Man At The Helm

We can’t talk about the backfield heading into 2017 without mentioning the new man in charge. Offensive line coach Dan Dorazio will now overseas the run game with second year quality control coach Mike Lionello overseeing the running backs in practice on a day-to-day basis.

The 26-year old Lionello likes his crop of first year players.

“Harris is a very capable back and there is no question he can play at this level,” said Lionello.

IMG_7200“And even though Carlisle couldn’t take part, he was still very involved and asking questions. We hope to see more of him before mini-camp breaks. We didn’t know Tyler was playing running back until today and as you saw, coach Buono gave him a shout out which was incredible.”

Lionello admits running a unit led by Johnson, Rainey, Rolly Lumbala and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence makes the transition much easier to deal with.

“It helps immensely,” stated Lionello.

“With them being veterans and being in the system for so long it is nothing new to learn and mostly about our execution as a team. That’s the biggest thing.”

Prior to last year, the Tsawwassen native spent three years at SFU, where his roles varied from running backs coach to video coordinator and director of football operations.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com