Tyler Ebell and Joe Smith got caught up in the numbers game Thursday.
The veteran running backs were among their team’s final cuts as CFL clubs reduced their rosters to the league-managed 46-man limit.
The CFL regular season kicks off Wednesday night with two games. The Toronto Argonauts are in Hamilton to face the Tiger-Cats (TSN, 5 p.m.) before the defending-champion Calgary Stampeders host the Montreal Alouettes in a Grey Cup rematch (TSN, 8 p.m.).
Ebell was released by the Toronto Argonauts attempting to come back from a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon injury he sustained last year. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers gave Smith, a former CFL rushing champ, his walking papers in favour of keeping younger prospects.
The Argos acquired Ebell and receiver T.J. Acree from Edmonton on Feb. 15, 2008, for cornerback Jordan Younger. Ebell led the Eskimos in rushing (650 yards, 5.2-yard average) and total yards (1,318) in 2007 and was named the club’s top rookie.
But his ’08 season ended before it began as Ebell suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon during training camp. After an eight-month rehabilitation, Ebell declared himself fit for this year’s camp.
There was no shortage of competition in Toronto’s backfield, with incumbent Jamal Robertson, newcomer Jarrett Payton — the son of former NFL legend Walter Payton — and highly touted youngster Da’Shawn Thomas, who was also released.
“Tyler can play in our league but, unfortunately, we had to make a decision and he was kind of the odd guy out,” said Argos GM Adam Rita. “We would have no qualms about bringing him back to the team if we do suffer some injuries.”
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, Smith was made expendable by the combination of missing practice time with a calf injury and the stellar play of first-year players Larous Giles and Yvenson Bernard.
“I’ve said all along, if you can’t practise it’s tough for us to evaluate you,” Kelly said.
“Joe missed a couple of days of practice, but the over-riding thing is that we had younger players perform very, very well for us.
“We gave Joe plenty of opportunity. He was at practice every day, he could have fought through some things. But I’d rather talk about players that we have here than players that we don’t. And the players that we have here are good players.”
Giles, a six-foot-two, 215-pound rookie from Jackson State, has been especially impressive. He rushed for 161 yards on 12 carries in a 31-27 exhibition loss to Montreal on Tuesday after running for 77 yards and two TDs in the Bombers’ 32-22 pre-season victory over Hamilton on June 17.
Smith began his CFL career with B.C. in 2006, replacing then starter Antonio Warren. That season, he ran for 887 yards and nine TDs in helping the Lions win the Grey Cup.
The following season, Smith led the CFL in rushing with a club-record 1,510 yards and 18 TDs and was named a league all-star. But the Lions dealt Smith to Winnipeg on Sept. 1, 2008 for tailback Charles Roberts.
Edmonton released 10 players, including defensive end Jim Davis, defensive back Sammy Okpro and receiver Dante Luciani, all of whom were entering their second season with the CFL club.
Calgary placed running back Jon Cornish and offensive lineman Jeff Pilon on the injured list.