Making his run for a job

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

A.J. Harris is the only import running back taking part in the Edmonton Eskimos rookie camp.

But he looks tailor-made for the Canadian game.

The Illinois native played in NFL Europe with the Cologne Centurions last spring, then was a late cut by the Seattle Seahawks in the fall.

He's got an eye on one of the Eskimos' running back spots up for grabs when the rest of the team takes to the field tomorrow for main camp.

"He's an exciting back to watch," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "He's a big back that can run with power. He can also definitely catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

"In my opinion, when he was at the Seahawks camp, he should have made that football team, based on the games he played in the pre-season and how effective he was in the pre-season."

EIGHT RUNNING BACKS

Harris, 23, signed as a free agent in February and is one of eight running backs on the training-camp roster.

The six-foot, 225-pound back attended the University of Northern Illinois. After college, Harris signed with the Washington Redskins where he was cut during the pre-season.

"I just want to come in here and try to make an impact as best as I can," Harris said. "Obviously the first thing is trying to make the team. I hope I'm able to compete with all the other guys at the position. I'm going to work real hard and try to pull it off."

Unlike a lot of American players who come up to the CFL, Harris is familiar with the league. He used to watch games on television growing up just outside of Chicago.

"I would try and pick up stuff," he said. "I realized that it was a lot faster. I like it, I think it's cool. The Canadian game suits me fine because I've always been more of a receiving back. Every team I've been on, they've always split me out or put me in the slot.

"I'm used to having to come out of the backfield and catch the ball. I'm a decently fast guy and I like having all this room to roam."

Having that extra 10 yards between sidelines is beneficial for a back who has the type of speed to turn the corner that Harris has. That breakaway speed was on display yesterday on the last day of rookie camp.

"I got caught up on that (Thursday)," he said.

"I could have sworn the field was ending and then I realized I had five more yards left and I fell."

With Ron McClendon as the only running back with more than two years of service, there is an opportunity for a rookie to come in and make an impression.

"You just have to do stuff to make yourself visible," he said. "You don't want to be the person who is just watching from the back.

"I personally try and get in as many reps as I can. If they're not paying attention, I'm going to jump in there. I'm always talking, I'm always trying to bring a lot of energy and hopefully that will get me noticed."

NOT NERVOUS

Having attended numerous training camps in his football career, Harris is not nervous about his first audition with the Eskimos.

"He's a big back that can run by people and that can catch the football," Maciocia said.

"It's going to be a battle at the tailback position."

NOTES ... The Eskimos have invited guest coaches Ronnie Jones, Terry Bailey and Mark Feezel to take part at training camp. Jones, currently coaching high school in Arlington, Texas has 30 years of experience, 12 of which were spent on NFL coaching staffs. Bailey formerly coached with the B.C. Lions and Feezel is currently an assistant coach at Catalina Foothills high schoolin Tucson, Arizona.


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