Flash & Bash

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Not to spark another controversy, but Winnipeg Blue Bomber Charles Roberts once said he'd retire when he was no longer the best running back in the CFL.

With Joffrey Reynolds and the Calgary Stampeders coming to town, what better time to begin the debate as to who is the best ball carrier in the land?

Separated by four inches and some 50 pounds in size, the two have been neck on neck in the race for the CFL rushing crown this season -- one week Roberts gains the edge, the next it's Reynolds.

The 5-foot-6, 170-pound Roberts is the reigning champ, intent on winning his third title in four years. Reynolds, 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, was the runner-up last season, his first full season in the league.

Is the crown about to change hands?

Saturday's game could go a long way to deciding the competition.

And a competition is exactly what it is, at least for the man affectionately known as Blink.

"It's like holding all the titles at once: the WBC, the IBF -- you know what I mean?" Roberts, using a boxing analogy, told Home Turf. "There's bragging rights. I don't know that it says you're the best. It says you're definitely up there."

With Roberts, the rushing title has become a matter of personal pride. Reynolds, on the other hand, downplays the importance of it.

The skills of the two are just as contrasting as their approaches.

In his sixth year, Roberts, 27, remains the CFL's most elusive player, spinning like the Tasmanian Devil to avoid tackles, then sprinting like the Roadrunner to daylight.

Reynolds, 26, may not be quite as shifty, but he makes up for it with power.

So who's the best?

Home Turf interviewed players, coaches and general managers and came to the following conclusion: the question is as difficult to bring down as the players.

"Charlie's probably the most difficult back to play against," said Bomber middle linebacker Barrin Simpson. "I hated playing against him because he would make you miss. He could shake you in a phone booth. He's the harder back to play against because of his open-field skills."

One of the most respected run-stoppers in the CFL, Simpson came over to Winnipeg from B.C. this season.

It wasn't a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Then again, he's glad he won't have to square off with No. 1 anymore.

"I've had the most problems with any running back in the league, with Charlie," Simpson said. "He got me my rookie year, the next year and the next year. He's one of the guys that's shorter than me, plus he's quick. I'm usually a guy that plays with lower leverage, but it's hard to tackle Charlie in the open field."

That said, Simpson gives props to Reynolds, too.

"Unlike Charlie, he can take it the distance with one carry," Simpson said. "He's definitely faster than Charlie. Joffrey's the more powerful back. He runs harder. Charlie's always trying to make you miss. I love the bigger backs ... they're not going to try to break me down. It's just collision. And I love collision."

Simpson is still smarting from the last meeting with the Stamps, when Reynolds delivered a straight-arm that put Simpson on the ground.

"His first couple of years I've punished him, got some big hits on him. But that game he got me. I'm looking to play him again."

Reynolds easily outshone Roberts that day, their last head-to-head meeting in Calgary, Sept. 15, gaining 162 yards to Roberts' 23.

That was the best game Reynolds has had against a Greg Marshall-coached defence.

Roberts, on the other hand, has rushed for 100-plus yards against Marshall's teams a few times.

A defensive co-ordinator in Ottawa, Edmonton and Saskatchewan before coming to Winnipeg, Marshall says he can't choose between the two backs -- they both give him headaches.

"Neither one's a picnic," Marshall said. "Charles has got a little more shake and bake to him than Joffrey. They both can make you miss, but Charles relies on making you miss more than Joffrey does. Joffrey can run over guys if he has to. He's got the whole package. He's gotten better as a receiver. So that just adds another weapon to the arsenal."

Marshall says the crazy thing about stopping Roberts is, everybody can be in the right place and he can still break a run.

"You can do everything right and he can make two or three guys miss," Marshall said. "The best run Charles ever had against us when I was in Edmonton was probably about a two-yard gain. But we had him for a 12-yard loss, and he made about eight guys miss and turned it into a two-yard run."

In the 2002 West Final, when he was with the Eskimos, Marshall found out there is one way to stop Roberts.

"We knocked him out of the game. That's the best way to deal with Charles."

A quick check with three of the CFL's most respected GMs revealed they'd all like to deal for Roberts. Reynolds, too, for that matter.

Toronto's Adam Rita, Jim Popp of Montreal and Wally Buono of the B.C. Lions all said the same thing: they'd take either one in a heartbeat.

"I wouldn't be able to choose," Popp said. "They're both outstanding backs. Pound for pound, they're both strong. They're excellent, prototypical, CFL running backs. They've got a whole package to them, and can make something out of nothing."

Popp says the styles of the two aren't as contrasting as you might think.

"Most people would probably say Joffrey's more powerful than Charles," Popp said. "Charles is much stronger than you think he is. He's got power to him. He's a hard man to tackle. I think there's more similarity to them than there is difference."

Toss in the fact they're both good receivers, and you've got a real stalemate.

"They power run, they churn, they don't usually go backwards -- you just don't find backs who can do everything," Popp said. "Both of those guys fit that category."

Rita says determining which player is better is like coming up with a rhyme for "orange."

"You're talking about doing something that's impossible," Rita said. "If you're a coach at all, you see the benefits of either guy. Each one has their assets, and each one has things they're limited to, either their size or skill level."

Asked which one he'd fear more in a must-win game, Rita chose Reynolds -- but only because of the presence of Wes Cates next to Reynolds in the Stamps backfield.

Much of a running back's production depends on the players blocking for him, his team's ability to pass the ball and the presence of other offensive threats around him.

That's where you might lean towards Roberts, who's posted back-to-back, 1,500-yard seasons on a non-playoff team with few offensive weapons.

Reynolds, on the other hand, is part of a varied Calgary attack that keeps defences guessing. That helps explain Reynolds' gaudy average yards per carry, nearly a full yard higher than Roberts'.

The question of who's the better back might actually have two parts.

If you're asking who'd be best in a must-win playoff game, played outdoors on a cold field, someone like Roberts might be at a disadvantage.

"In slippery conditions, sometimes that quickness gets neutralized," Buono said.

But ask Buono, one of the most successful coaches/GM's in CFL history, which player he'd rather start a franchise with, and you get a different answer.

"When I was looking at my top 50 (CFL players of all time), Charles was a guy I seriously thought about," Buono said. "Because he's having a great career. He's a guy, when you start a franchise, you would think seriously (about). Because you don't have to block anybody and he'd still get positive yardage. Charles has proven it over the years."

Bottom line, this might be a matter of personal preference, more so than a verdict based on testimony and evidence.

Kind of like the old Gilligan's Island debate: Ginger or Mary-Ann?

"How do you lose?" Buono said. "Do you like blondes or brunettes?"

For our money, we'll take Ginger.

And Roberts. For now.

But if Roberts is the champ, the contender appears on the verge of claiming at least one of the belts.

---

THE CHAMP

Charles Roberts, Winnipeg

27 years old, sixth year

5-foot-6, 170 pounds

This season: 264 carries, 1,409 yards, 5.3 avg.

2005: 290 carries, 1,624* yards, 5.6 avg.

2004: 300 carries, 1,522 yards, 5.1 avg.

2003: 264 carries, 1,554* yards, 5.9 avg.

2002: 216 carries, 1,162 yards, 5.4 avg.

2001: 107 carries, 620 yards, 5.8 avg.

THE CONTENDER

Joffrey Reynolds, Calgary

26 years old, third year

5-foot-10, 220 pounds

This season: 244 carries, 1,467 yards, 6.0 avg.

2005: 247 carries, 1,453 yards, 5.9 avg.

2004: 90 carries, 497 yards, 5.5 avg.

*CFL leader


Videos

Photos