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Bauming: Rookie tailbacks look to push Bombers All-Star Ford

Darrin Bauming, TSN 1290 Winnipeg

6/9/2014 9:25:29 AM

In a year where the level of potential quarterback play in Winnipeg remains a relative unknown, establishing a solid running attack will be of utmost importance for both Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea and coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille's offence.

Bellefeuille - in his only media availability for 2014 at minicamp in Bradenton, Florida due to new media policies put in place by the first-year head coach - says his offence has been re-built 100 per cent from scratch. But who will be the feature tailback? O'Shea says it will not be a backfield by committee.

"The roster doesn't allow it to be. But certainly it'll give us lots of options," said O'Shea. "Or, we hope that it continues the way it's going that it'll give us lots of options by the time we make the final roster."

The incumbent starter, Will Ford, is joined by rookies Paris Cotton and Nic Grigsby, and a pair of Canadians in fourth-year Bomber Carl Volny, and 2014 undrafted free agent Errol Brooks.

"It's exciting - five different styles of running backs, and it keeps you going," said Ford, a 2013 East Division All-Star selection in his second CFL season. "It keeps you on your toes. We're just competing to make ourselves better. It ain't a 1-2-3-4-5. It's just we're all competing to make each other better."

After taking over starting duties for the injured Chad Simpson midway through the season, Ford finished his standout 2013 campaign by leading the team in rushing yards (594), kick return yards (1,047), and combined yards (1,682), which ranked sixth in the CFL in just nine starts.

General manager Kyle Walters must feel confident in the pair of import rookies he has behind Ford - Cotton and Grigsby - as the club did not bring in another back following the release of five-year NFL veteran Kevin Smith after just one day of training camp.

Cotton, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound power-pack, has shown soft hands and flashes of explosiveness and escapability in camp.

"Speed. Can't beat speed. Can't coach speed," said Cotton when asked what he brings to the football field. "I like my chances. Build it yourself - that's how I see it. I'm just coming in, doing everything I can to win a job."

With the quickness and speed Cotton has put on display - like Ford - he may be an option in the return game as well.

"I want to return. I want to do everything I can to help this team."

Grigsby sees the differences in the Canadian game, which he admits he has known about for a long time, as an opportunity to exploit his skill set. An attendee of B.C. Lions training camp in 2012 before taking another crack as a baseball player, it appears he has an advanced understanding of what a CFL running back is despite being a first-year player.

"They're trying to get the running backs involved more in the pass game," said the 5-foot-10, 190-pound University of Arizona product. "Dumping us out. They want us speed guys to get in space and turn a five-yard play into 60 yards."

"Be a great decoy without the football too. A lot of us running backs, we want the ball, we want the ball, but in this offence and in this field it's good stretching a defence. So you've got to be a decoy and make sure you're running out your fakes. I mean, it's hard. It gets tiring. But you've got to put in that mental effort at that time and make that happen."

"I'm very fiery," continued Grigsby. "I love when you've got that feeling behind you when you're making a big play to make a spark, you can feel the crowd and bring energy to the big stadium — a nice beautiful stadium like this is. We walked out here (on Day 1 at Investors Group Field) and I was like, 'OK. We're here.'"

Injury Report

The list of those nursing bumps and bruises - all deemed short-term by Mike O'Shea - is getting quite lengthy. Ruled out for Monday's preseason opener against Toronto are expected Week 1 starters Johnny Sears (groin), Jason Vega (hip flexor), Ejiro Kuale (ankle), Will Ford (hamstring), Donovan Alexander (calf), and punter Mike Renaud (back tightness), as well as Canadian slotback Cory Watson who has sat out of every day of camp since Day 1 when he sustained a hamstring injury. Also out are 2014 draft picks Aram Eisho (hamstring) and Jesse Briggs (shoulder), who has missed the last five days of camp. Safety Dan West (calf) and Paul Swiston (shoulder) have also been ruled out. Swiston, a Canadian offensive lineman, is the only "long-term" recovery as he heals from offseason surgery.