From now until the start of the 2021 training camp on July 10, bclions.com will provide a positional breakdown series to preview all the new and familiar faces, who will be taking the field at Hillside Stadium in Kamloops. We’ll continue this series with our running backs.
Jordan Maksymic won’t blame you if you think his running backs are a position group that might be flying under the radar heading into 2021. After all, the first-year Lions offensive coordinator has quarterback Michael Reilly and an embarrassment of riches at his disposal when it comes to the receiving corps.
All that being said, this group of running backs will be counted on to do their part in order to make the offence click. And it goes well beyond just chewing up yards with big carries. Enter Shaq Cooper, formerly of Edmonton, who was added on day one of free agency. Nothing is set in stone. But all signs point toward Cooper having the inside track to get a bulk of the tailback work. He is tailor-made for the versatility required with Maksymic’s running backs.
“In a word, he’s a playmaker,” explained the OC.
“He’s just such an explosive athlete. It’s going to be our job, and we’re excited about it, to find a bunch of ways to get the football in his hand. Whether it’s the traditional run game, the pass game or screen game, or just finding creative ways to get him the ball. He’s an explosive guy. I’ve had the pleasure to work with him (In Edmonton) in the past. I’m super excited to make him a focal point in this offence.”
Last season brought the Lions’ first 1,000-yard rusher since the departure of Andrew Harris after 2015. That was John White IV who moved on to the Toronto Argonauts the same day Cooper opted for Lions orange. Cooper should be hungry to compete after racking up 496 yards rushing on 90 carries plus 21 receptions for 156 yards in his seven-game sample size with the green and gold over 2018 and 2019.
Cooper and Chris Rainey provide the veteran experience. We all know the Rain Man’s primary duties will be in the return game but can be used on offence if needed.
As it stands now, two rookie Americans will be on hand to work in the backfield. Those are Illinois product Reggie Corbin and James Butler who most recently suited up with the XFL Houston Roughnecks in 2020.
“I have high expectations for both those guys,” added Maksymic.
“Both had solid college careers and James has his pro experience. They’re certainly excited. Spending the last few months talking to the guys, teaching them the offence and getting to know them, they’re definitely excited for the opportunity. We’re very excited to see if one or both of those guys can surprise us. It’s unique not having any pre-season games but we’ll have opportunities in practice and scrimmages to get them the ball.”
And who can leave out the solid Canadian contingent? Jamel Lyles emerged as one of the training camp surprises in 2019 and will be counted upon to help groom 2020 CFL draft pick Kayden Johnson and former Langley Rams standout Andrew Pocrinc. At fullback, veteran David Mackie returns for a third season in orange.
“Andrew and Kayden should be watching Jamel, looking at his story and learning how he got onto the roster. As for Jamel, he knows it’s his second camp and he needs to take the next step. He knows if he shows up and does what we expect him to do, he can play a big role in this offence. Those two young guys are going to get their opportunity. They’ll need to perform on special teams and then give us the chance to figure out where they can fit in beyond that.”
The usual intriguing mix of vets and youth. Always a staple of every brilliant training camp.
Intriguing Newcomers Amongst The Backs
Shaq Cooper (A)- his credentials stated above. The chance to play a full season for the first time in his CFL career should have him motivated.
Reggie Corbin (A)- 2,361 career rushing yards at Illinois remain the 12th-highest in program history. It will be interesting to monitor adjustment to the Canadian game.
Kayden Johnson- (N)- a seventh-round draft choice in 2020, the former York Lions back also doubles as a bobsledder for Canada’s national squad.
Andrew Pocrnic- (N)- Saskatoon native set CJFC record for touchdowns in a season with 27 as the Langley Rams made it all the way to the 2019 Canadian Bowl.
“I want to show coach Campbell, the BC fans and the entire CFL what I bring to the table. I feel like I have a big chip on my shoulder and I’m so excited to get there, play ball and show the world what I can do.”- Shaq Cooper.