Time for Avery to carry the load

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Why are the Argos paying running back John Avery $250,000 a year if they are not going to use him? Avery, who is the highest-paid non-quarterback in the CFL, has rushed only 125 times in the first 12 games -- an average of 10.5 -- for a total of 553 yards. That ranks him eighth in the league.

Consider the stats of other running backs, many of whom are making about a third to half as much as Avery.

Hamilton's Troy Davis, for example, the CFL's leading rusher with 1,135 yards, has carried the ball an average of about 17.5 times in 13 games. Winnipeg's Charles Roberts, who is second in the league with 1,099 yards, has averaged 16.7 runs per game in 13 games. Roberts has been used effectively as a receiver and hurt the Argos last Saturday in a 44-34 Winnipeg win.

Avery carried the ball eight times for 24 yards and was virtually non-existent in the second half.

In his previous game, he had a season-high 17 rushes and accumulated 110 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown run.

The Argos didn't sign Avery to be a high-priced blocking back or decoy. He had 1,448 rushing yards with Edmonton in 2002 and was an all-around stud as a receiver and kick returner.

Time has painfully revealed Avery is not the player he once was, in part due to the effects of knee surgery he underwent last fall when he was a member of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

He indicated yesterday he won't be 100% this season in terms of range of motion in his knee and being pain-free.

"But trust me, I'm healthy enough to get 20 or 30 (touches a game)," he said.

Which begs the question: Give him the ball and find out if he can handle the load or find a replacement?

"Certainly because of his health we weren't able to hand it off as much as we wanted," head coach Pinball Clemons said. "At this point, I'd like to see us strive to continue toward that goal of 15 runs and five catches (a game). That's what I said the first day of training camp and that ideology persists.

"Do I encourage that? Absolutely. You don't try to create a controversy. It's (offensive co-ordinator) Kent Austin's job to make the offence go. It's not his job to run Avery 15 times. It's his job to make the offence go and that's where he will be evaluated."

In 2001, Clemons made it emphatically clear to John Jenkins, at the time the team's offensive co-ordinator, to run the ball in the final third of the season after wasting a proven asset in 1,000-yard running back Michael Jenkins. The Argos improved when they committed to the ground game.

That commitment should be made now because it's the time of the year when almost all teams are establishing balanced attacks. Even Montreal, which prefers to pass, has implemented a running game.

It's even more imperative to establish a run game when there are concerns at quarterback. Interim starter Michael Bishop will start this Saturday against Edmonton, but if he continues to struggle, as he has in two of the past three games, backup Romaro Miller will be inserted quickly. Damon Allen isn't expected back until at least Thanksgiving Day against B.C., which is two games away.

Austin's task isn't easy. The entire offence has been rocked by injuries, which has ruined the consistency of his system and its execution.

But finding a creative way to implement a running game, which Winnipeg has done under trying circumstances this year, is proof it can be attained.

And now is the time to start and let Avery prove he can do it.


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