Thunder rolls as backup

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Joe Smith is enjoying his new role and new nickname.

As part of Thunder and Lightning, Smith has started to thrive in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers backfield along with the speedy Fred Reid.

He doesn't even mind that Thunder comes after Lightning.

"I like having that nickname," Smith said yesterday while relaxing on the turf at McMahon Stadium ahead of today's meeting with the Calgary Stampeders (4:30 p.m., TSN).

"It works pretty good. I probably get in for about 15 to 20 plays a game. Both of us are pretty healthy after the game, so it's working out really good.

"I can go home and enjoy the night. I don't have to alternate sleeping on one side or another and I don't have to ice everything."

Last season, Smith was a workhorse for the B.C. Lions, running for a CFL-leading 1,510 yards on 281 carries.

But he lost his job to rookie Stefan Logan earlier this season and was then shipped to Winnipeg in exchange for Bombers all-time leading rusher Charles Roberts.

It seemed that Smith had worn out his welcome with the Lions, but he appears to have fit in with the Bombers.

"Everyone accepted me with open arms," said Smith.

"It was a good transition for me. They were all helpful getting me back and forth from the hotel and getting the system down. The locker-room is great. I love it there. It's all working out really well."

Getting rid of Roberts was an unpopular move by Bombers management, and the talk- show phone lines lit up when it happened.

The offence turned to Reid to increase his workload as Smith was getting up to speed on the playbook.

Last week, both had their best games of the season. Smith ran for 101 yards on 12 carries, while Reid had 107 on 15 attempts in a win over the Argos. It's the most balanced the backs have been since teaming up.

"We've used them about two-thirds, one-third since we acquired Joe," said Bombers head coach Doug Berry. "Last week, Joe had some big carries. He was the one who ignited us in the second quarter.

"When we started game-planning, we had to identify personnel groupings by saying Fred has to be in to run certain plays. This week, we only one or two of those types of plays.

"Joe is really figuring out what we're doing and is fitting in much more with some experience."

Although Smith went from being the Leos' main man to be dished off in a trade, he simply wasn't all that concerned.

Because he doesn't have a traditional phone (he uses his computer), he arrived at practice and was shown the newspaper that said he was dealt.

"My first reaction was, 'How am I going to move my stuff?' " he said. "I really didn't have a true reaction to the situation other than I have to move my stuff."


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