Argos: Ebell is the answer

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

First Tyler Ebell had to prove his innocence. Then he had to prove he still could play football.

Now, the 25-year-old from Ventura, Calif., is hoping to prove he can be the go-to guy at running back that the Toronto Argonauts have not had for almost a decade.

"When I went to UCLA, when I went to high school, I always had to battle for a spot but I always end up being in there," said Ebell who, two days into training camp, already has proclaimed himself the sexiest guy on the team. "I was joking," he says, looking across the practice field, "but I still think I'm right."

He's not short on confidence. Today, he is the early-line favourite to run the ball in head coach Rich Stubler's rebuilt offence. It is his job to lose. The Argos did not trade star cornerback Jordan Younger, even though there were salary considerations, to Edmonton for Ebell so that he could sit on the bench.

TRUST IN EBELL

When it comes to reviving a running game that walked out the door about the same time as Michael Jenkins, management has put its trust in Ebell.

"We have not had a consistent running back here for as long as I can remember. We seem to go through them like water," said Stubler. "This guy is going to play 18 games for us."

The Argos haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Jenkins in 2001. Last year Jamel White started the season opener but 27 carries and 92 yards later he, like Sam Zanders and a dozen Sean Ralphs before him, became a footnote in history.

Only once in the past 10 seasons has an Argonaut rushed for 10 or more TDs -- that was a decade ago when Robert Drummond had 12.

"I think the combo of me and (Dominique) Dorsey is going to be good. I see two people who are playmakers and either of us can take it to the house anytime." said Ebell, who had a rebirth as a pro last season when he started 11 games for the Eskimos with a team-leading 124 carries and 650 yards. "If they get us in there at the same time, we'll be dangerous."

Dangerous was not always a word with which Ebell has had a comfortable association.

He set the U.S. high school single-season record of 4,494 yards at Ventura High and his 64 touchdowns broke the record of 59 by Carolina Panther DeShaun Foster. In his first season at UCLA he rambled for 994 yards but a promising career crashed in April 2006 when a man identified Ebell as one of his assailants at a restaurant near the UCLA campus.

"I had personal issues that had to be dealt with. I really don't want to talk about the past," said Ebell whose felony charge was eventually dismissed. He missed the 2007 season before getting a call from Edmonton coach Danny Maciocia. "I didn't know much about the CFL but I proved last year I can play in this league. Being out of football for a year, it has taken me a bit to get my feet back under me but I'm getting more comfortable."

He was named the Esks' top rookie, rambling for 1,317 all-purpose yards. But he voiced displeasure at being benched for the final two games in favour of Damien Anderson. Meantime, in Toronto, starting a season with the rickety John Avery and Robert Edwards was not an option. When the Argos and Younger couldn't balance chequebooks Stubler remembered Ebell from UCLA and a swap of expediency was born.

"Here was a kid who came into the Pac-10 as a freshman and almost had a thousand yards. That's pretty impressive," said Stubler.

But it wasn't so much the numbers. "I like that he's tough," said Stubler. "He had (a separated shoulder) in Edmonton and never missed a game. I don't need a guy who can play two games, then has to sit for two, then gets nicked and then can't practice. You need a guy who's going to play every game. I'm not looking for a flash in the pan who can give me 100 yards -- then tweak a hamstring. I want a tough (bleep)."


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