A battle of running backs

The first clash of the season between East Division rivals Montreal and Toronto will feature a showdown between the two busiest running backs in the CFL — Avon Cobourne of the Alouettes and Jamal Robertson of the Argonauts.

MONTREAL — The first clash of the season between East Division rivals Montreal and Toronto will feature a showdown between the two busiest running backs in the CFL — Avon Cobourne of the Alouettes and Jamal Robertson of the Argonauts.

Cobourne leads the league with 80 carries and 431 yards after five games, while Robertson is just behind in both categories with 68 attempts for 427 yards. They will be key players when the 4-1 Alouettes meet the 2-3 Argonauts at Percival Molson Stadium tonight (TSN, 5:30 p.m.).

“I definitely got a lot of carries this year,” Cobourne said Thursday. “I didn’t expect it either, but I’m happy for it.

“When we’re running the ball, it means we’re leading the game, so we want to continue leading the league in rushing.”

A year ago, Cobourne was on pace to make history by gaining 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving, but he has made only 18 catches for 126 yards so far as Anthony Calvillo has opted to go to his ace receiving crew of Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins, Jamel Richardson and Brian Bratton. That pace would leave him well short.

Cobourne’s 2008 campaign was cut short when he missed six games with an ankle injury, leaving him 50 off 1,000 on the ground and nearly 400 shortthrough the air.

“I don’t think about winning the rushing title, it’s getting that first 1,000-yard season — that would be bigger for me,” the 30-year-old said.

While the five-foot-eight Cobourne is a slashing back who uses speed and quick cuts to beat tacklers, the five-foot-10 216-pound Robertson is a power back who also brings speed to the Argos’ rushing game.

The 32-year-old spent six years with various NFL clubs before joining the Argos last season to replace Tyler Ebell after starting training camp with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He won the job with seven strong games late last season at tailback.

“He plays physical, that’s what I like about him,” Cobourne said of his rival. “He’s not just a scat guy, he can beat you with speed and he’s a power back too.”

Unlike Cobourne, who does the lion’s share of rushing for Montreal, the Argonauts also have former Alouettes tailback Jarrett Payton playing at fullback, while quarterback Kerry Joseph also likes to take off with the ball. Joseph is eighth in rushing in the league with 168 yards on 24 carries.

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