Edmonton Eskimos defensive back Josh Woodman (7) breaks up a pass intended for Ottawa Redblacks wide receiver Greg Ellingson (82) during second half CFL football action in Ottawa, Thursday, Aug.10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Bombers expect ‘outright battle’ with banged-up but undefeated Eskimos

Bombers expect ‘outright battle’ with banged-up but undefeated Edmonton Eskimos

WINNIPEG — Andrew Harris wants to make his offensive linemen happy.

The Blue Bombers running back is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game this season as the team prepares to host the injury-riddled 7-0 Edmonton Eskimos on Thursday.

“The O-line loves it when we’re grinding those yards out and then they can attack instead of sitting back,” Harris said Wednesday after Winnipeg’s walkthrough.

Harris rushed 14 times for 107 yards in last week’s 39-12 win over Hamilton, the team’s third straight victory that boosted its record to 5-2. It also snapped his 13-game drought of not hitting the 100-yard mark.

Winnipeg is fielding the same roster it used last week, but once again that’s not the case for Edmonton. The Eskimos have 20 injured players, including 16 on the six-game injured list.

Defensive linemen Almondo Sewell and Marcus Howard joined the wounded when they went down in Edmonton’s 27-20 win over Ottawa last week.

Eskimos head coach Jason Maas said he’s never seen such a rash of injuries at multiple positions, and he’s proud of his players for adapting.

“It’s not been an easy task the first seven weeks for us, yet we’ve somehow overcome all of it and are standing where we are,” Maas said.

Second-year Eskimos receiver Bryant Mitchell is one of those players who’s stepped in and plugged a hole more than adequately.

He’s played four games and put up 100-yard receiving performances (121 and 114) with one touchdown his last two outings.

“We get everybody experience,” Mitchell said of overcoming the roster turnover.

The Bombers only have one victory against a CFL West Division rival, a 43-40 win against Saskatchewan in their first game of the season.

Winnipeg’s offence leads the league in points scored with an average of 31.6 per game, while Edmonton is third at 28.3.

Edmonton’s defence has allowed only an average of 24.1 points per game, third in the loop. Winnipeg is eighth at 31.6.

Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett said he’s not surprised the Esks have coped with so many changes.

“You have such great talent in the starting lineup and you’ve got the backups actually pushing your starters,” Leggett said.

The key is Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly, whom Leggett has his eye on.

“I would just like to get a good hit on him one time, that way he’ll think about coming my way,” Leggett said with a laugh. “That’s all defensive players, though.”

Despite missing two games with an injury, Leggett has 23 defensive tackles and two sacks.

Reilly and Bombers counterpart Matt Nichols, former teammates and long-time friends, are putting up similar numbers this season.

Reilly has completed 181-of-249 pass attempts for 2,329 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Nichols is 182-of-264 for 2,024 yards and 13 TDS and four picks.

Nichols said the game film he’s watched of the Eskimos hasn’t shown a decline in play because of the injuries.

“It’s tough moving the ball on them, it’s tough scoring points on them,” Nichols said. “You definitely could not notice that they have a bunch of guys missing on that defensive side.”

Harris is third among CFL rushers with 79 touches for 390 yards and four touchdowns, an average of 4.9 yards per carry. He also has 42 receptions for 339 yards, third on the Bombers.

He expects an “outright battle.”

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