No Johnny come lately

There’s good news and bad news for those in Bomberland.

Starting with the bad, star running back Andrew Harris continues to be sidelined. The CFL’s rushing champion from the past three seasons hasn’t done much, if anything, on the field since Day 2 of training camp and the season opener on Aug. 5 is fast approaching.

He isn’t the only ball carrier who’s been forced to spectate as his backup from 2019, Johnny Augustine, entered camp with an injury.

The good news for the Blue and Gold is that Augustine is back to 100 per cent and made his training camp debut Tuesday alongside a running back group that features fellow nationals in Brady Oliveira and Kyle Borsa, and import Devonte Williams. The club signed Williams, a 24-year-old out of Southeastern Louisiana who rushed for 599 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games as a senior, two weeks ago.

With the other four names on the depth chart being Canadian, the Bombers have more national running backs than any other team in the CFL.

“It’s a Canadian league and the fact that it is a Canadian room does make it special,” Augustine told reporters Wednesday after his second day back. “Andrew Harris has done a great job in establishing that and we just continue to follow in his footsteps. I’m happy to say I’m proud to be Canadian and to continue that tradition and be a national starter — a national ratio-breaker.”

Augustine wouldn’t go into detail about his injury, but said it was something minor that he was dealing with in his offseason training, but he’s good to go now and will be ready to play against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next week. If Harris is forced to miss the game with his lingering lower-body injury, an Augustine-Oliveira one-two punch could be in the cards.

“I think everyone brings a great skillset, whoever’s in the game,” said Augustine. “Brady’s very quick, very strong. I know I’m a speedy guy, I love pass protection. I think we’re all-around backs — that’s what it is. I’m not going to separate the difference between both of us, but at the end of the day I think we’re both capable of doing the job, whoever’s in there.”

While Oliveira, a second-year player from Winnipeg who played college ball at North Dakota, remains unproven as he missed essentially all of 2019 with an ankle injury and has zero CFL carries to his name, the Bombers know what they have with Augustine.

Undrafted out of the University of Guelph, the 28-year-old from Niagara Falls, Ont., enters his third season with the team. He hasn’t played much in his first two years, but when he’s been given an inch, he’s taken a mile. He rushed seven times for 51 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, all coming in the regular-season finale. He then made two starts in 2019, both coming against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, due to Harris being suspended and Augustine totalled 173 yards on the ground on 28 carries. In those two contests he also made five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

“Any time I get my reps, I’m gonna make them count. It’s always about the opportunity. I remember in 2018, even having the preseason game, that gave me confidence,” said Augustine, who rushed eight times for 81 yards and a score in a preseason game as a rookie.

“I honestly didn’t forget that and I built off that. Same thing with the Saskatchewan games, same thing whenever I came in for Andrew towards the end of games. It’s not just those two (Saskatchewan) games, but it did help (my confidence).”

While Augustine is getting a late start on training camp, head coach Mike O’Shea said that won’t prevent them from using him right away.

“I know Johnny’s ready to go. When he stepped on the field today, he looked good,” O’Shea said.

“I know he’s a pro in terms of keeping up with all the playbook stuff and the filmwork he needs to do… I can picture the games where he had good positive yards carrying the ball on good hard runs and catching the ball, too. So I think he steps back into a quick rotation and we’ll see exactly where he’s at.”

But is it fair to assume Augustine is hungry for a larger role?

“You’re absolutely right,” Augustine assured. “This is my job, this is my career, and I hope to be doing this for a long time.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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