Argos itching for the runs

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

First, there was the elevation of defensive guru Rich Stubler to head coach, replacing the effervescent face of the franchise, Michael (Pinball) Clemons.

Then came the acquisition of the CFL's most outstanding player and Grey Cup winning quarterback, Kerry Joseph, in a trade with Saskatchewan.

And for a final splash of an eventful off-season, in recent weeks the Argos went out and signed two big-name former NFL receivers -- David Boston and Bethel Johnson.

But if the Boatmen are serious about challenging for the Grey Cup, a much quieter acquisition may be the most significant as the team prepares for this week's opening of training camp. In Tyler Ebell, a trade acquisition from the Edmonton Eskimos, the team hopes it finally will have a running back to give it a semblance of a ground game.

Stubler and offensive co-ordinator Steve Buratto will get their first inkling of the prospect when veterans report on Saturday and training camp officially opens the following day. Quarterbacks and rookies take the first official steps of the new season when they report to the team's Mississauga headquarters tomorrow.

"No doubt one of the greatest needs we have is at running back and this kid has a great upside as a true running back," said Stubler, who will oversee his first camp as head coach. "We really felt we needed change there.

"We couldn't keep the people we had on the field (oft-injured John Avery and Robert Edwards) and that bothered me a lot. For every change you made you would lose a game. You need to have a consistent running game in this league." If anyone knows that, it is Stubler. For the better part of this decade, he has overseen the CFL's dominating defence that too regularly was let down by a listless offence.

So while the quarterback tandem of Joseph and Michael Bishop and the array of receivers is appealing, the team has started over and said so long to the sometimes entertaining but ultimately underachieving Avery and aging Edwards.

All signs point to handing the ball to Ebell, should he prove himself worthy.

"I look at this as a good opportunity to go out there and compete," said Ebell, a 24-year-old California native who has been waiting for his big break as a pro. "I feel like I've had some hard times over the past few years, but everything happens for a reason. It will be nice to stay healthy and be in a good situation."

Stubler remembers being impressed by Ebell when, as a freshman at UCLA in 2002, when he rushed for 994 yards and scored 10 TDs. But after coach Bob Toledo left the Bruins, Ebell fell out of favour and eventually ended his NCAA career at UTEP.

From there, it was some unsuccessful stints at NFL training camps before landing with the Eskimos. When he became available in the off-season, Stubler was impressed enough to send all-star defender Jordan Younger to Alberta for Ebell via trade.

"When I saw him at UCLA, I really liked his toughness," Stubler said. "He's a great possession guy who's versatile. He's not a big power back, but he can still get you those tough yards."

Tough or easy, for a team that was near the bottom of every rushing stat in the league in 2007, they can't come soon enough.


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