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May 14, 2018

Positional Breakdown | Running Backs

Between now and the start of training camp, bclions.com rolls out positional previews for each group that will hit the field at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops on May 20th. We continue the series with a look at the running backs.

The BC Lions are fortunate to possess one of the most talented and experienced backfields in the CFL. Led by Rolly Lumbala and Jeremiah Johnson, the Leos running back room has a combined 27 seasons of CFL experience.

Mike Lionello is back for his second season coaching the Lions’ running backs and he has plenty of toys to play with in 2018. Not only has BC added exciting newcomers like Brandon Rutley, David Mackie and Travon Van, but they also retained explosive talents like Johnson and Chris Rainey.

Jeremiah Johnson celebrates after scoring a touchdown.

Back for his third season in the den is Jeremiah Johnson, the Lions leading rusher each of the past two seasons. The former Oregon Duck set career highs in 2017, running for 913 yards and nine touchdowns in 17 games. He also hauled in 48 passes for 542 yards and three touchdowns last season.

“Jeremiah is a tremendous player, he clearly was one of the top overall backs in the league last year,” says Lionello. “He had 12 touchdowns last year and he is excellent in the passing game, so I’m very happy to have JJ back.”

Chris Rainey is back once again as the change of pace back for BC. The slippery tailback is always a threat as he has the speed to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Last season he rushed for 226 yards and scored one touchdown on the ground to go along with his 494 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.

“Chris will absolutely be used more in the running game this year,” said Lionello on Rainey. “He got really unlucky at times last season. There were multiple times that something went wrong on plays designed for Chris and it wasn’t his fault. The more he can touch the ball, the better our offence is going to be.”

The elder statesman of the 2018 BC Lions is Rolly Lumbala. The 32-year-old has spent his entire 10-year career with the Leos. Although his statistics will never jump off the page, Rolly is simply the best all-around fullback in the CFL and is one of the most respected voices in the Lions’ locker room.

“Rolly is the veteran of the group,” says Lionello on BC’s charismatic fullback. “He’s seen everything and been through everything. He is also a terrific asset to our young fullbacks, Dakota Brush and David Mackie. He makes everyone around him better.”

Rolly carries the ball against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Photo: Johany Juntras)

Brandon Rutley was an underrated pickup by the Lions this offseason. The trade that brought him to BC from Montreal might not have grabbed front page headlines but the San Jose State product has been very productive when healthy during his career. He ran for 949 yards and four scores with the Alouettes between 2015 and 2016.

Everyone will be competing for a job this spring in Kamloops, but the most intriguing position battle with the running back group will be for the backup fullback job. Dakota Brush served as Lumbala’s backup in 2017 and the converted wide receiver appeared in eight games. He will be challenged by David Mackie, the Lions’ second round pick in 2018. Both players are talented enough to make the roster so it should be interesting to see who comes out on top.

“David put some very good things on film at Western,” said Lionello on the Lions newest fullback. “He won a Vanier Cup and he has all the tools you want in a fullback. He’s 6’2, 245 and has great feet for that size. David is a very technically sound player.”

Travon Van and Shaun Wick are a pair of runners to keep an eye on in Kamloops as well. Van has played for the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Edmonton Eskimos, registering 705 rushing yards through 18 career games. Wick is a newcomer to the CFL but was very productive with the University of Wyoming, running for 2,533 yards and 21 touchdowns across 50 games.

THE RUNNING BACKS – *newcomers in bold

Dakota Brush (N)

Jeremiah Johnson (I)

Rolly Lumbala (N)

David Mackie (N) – Drafted by the Lions in the second round (16thoverall) of the 2018 CFL Draft.

Chris Rainey (I)

 Brandon Rutley (I)– Acquired via trade with the Montreal Alouettes in January.

Travon Van (I) – Signed as a free agent in May after spending 2017 with Edmonton.

Shaun Wick (I)– Former University of Wyoming runner signed as a free agent in May.

INTRIGUING NEWCOMERS

David Mackie – The Lions were not expecting David Mackie to still be on the board when it was their turn to pick in the second round of the 2018 CFL Draft, so they wasted no time in selecting the versatile fullback from Western. Mackie made a big impact for the Mustangs during his four seasons both as a blocker and as a receiver. He also provides tremendous value on special teams as he was one of the best long snappers in U SPORTS last season.

Brandon Rutley– Ed Hervey wanted to add another veteran running back this offseason, and that’s exactly what he did when he landed Brandon Rutley in a trade with Montreal. Rutley is hard to bring down and his numbers reflect that, as he has averaged 5.1 yards per carry and accumulated nearly 1,300 rushing yards through 35 career games.

Brandon Rutley figures to play a key role in the Lions’ running game in 2018.

KEY NUMBER

 – That is the number of times BC had over 100 rushing yards as a team in a single game last season. That number will have to increase if the Lions hope to return to the postseason in 2018.

QUOTABLE

“The more Chris can be involved in our offence, not only as a centerpiece but also as a decoy, we’re better off.” – Mike Lionello on Chris Rainey

Stay tuned for the remainder of our positional previews.

READ: Breaking Down the Offensive Line

Tuesday, May 15th– Linebackers

Wednesday, May 16th– Defensive Line

Thursday, May 17th– Receivers

Friday, May 18th– Defensive Backs

Saturday, May 19th– Quarterbacks

Brian Helberg – bhelberg@bclions.com