EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions have similar problems heading into Sunday’s CFL Western Final.
While Edmonton has to figure out how to stop receivers Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon, the Lions know that if they double team slotback Fred Stamps, Adarius Bowman will just run around them – and over them – to the end zone.
Bowman, the 26-year-old receiver from Tennessee, broke a tackle on a swing pass to run 56 yards and set up a critical touchdown in Edmonton’s 33-19 Western Semi-Final win over the Calgary Stampeders last weekend.
A week earlier, he singlehandedly torched the Saskatchewan Roughriders for two touchdowns in a 10-catch, 226-yard performance to guarantee Edmonton’s first home playoff game in seven years.
Bowman said the credit goes to Stamps. When the 29-year-old Louisiana native isn’t making highlight-reel catches, he’s getting smothered and double-teamed off the line, opening up space for Bowman and fellow receiver Jason Barnes.
“He’s been a great part of all the success I’ve had this year,” said Bowman. “He’s a leader I’ve looked at on and off the field.
“I’ve enjoyed every day coming here working with these guys and I feel like it shows on the field. Our team chemistry has been the key.”
Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed said Bowman, signed in the off-season as a free agent, makes the most of his six-foot-three, 233-pound frame.
“He’s a big target, absolutely phenomenal size, able to break tackles,” said Reed. “His (yards after catch) speak for themselves. And unlike most receivers, he relishes the physical game. He likes the contact. He likes mixing it up.”
Stamps and Bowman couldn’t be tighter statistically. Both finished with 1,153 yards receiving despite missing time with injuries.
Stamps caught 62 balls and four touchdowns for an 18.6 yard average – the best average in the CFL. Stamps was ranked fifth in the league behind Bowman with 82 catches and eight touchdowns.
Stamps admits he’s getting a lot less room to manoeuvre.
“The last two weeks, I’ve seen a lot more double coverage, but it really doesn’t matter. We’ve got two guys making big plays,” he said.
Quarterback Ricky Ray said each receiver has different talents.
“(Bowman) is big and he’s got a lot of speed so he can get behind coverage,” said Ray. “The biggest thing that has helped us out this year is his ability to catch those short passes. He has the knack for breaking that first tackle.”
Stamps caught just one ball for 12 yards in the 33-19 Semi-Final win over Calgary.
Ray said he wants to get Stamps more involved in the offence, particularly if they get him isolated one-on-one.
“Fred’s a guy that I feel really comfortable with,” said Ray, who has been throwing to Stamps for the last five seasons. “When he runs routes, he gives me good body language. I know where he’s going to be. I know what angles he’s going to come out at. And he’s got the ability to use that extra gear to go get a deep ball.
“And if it’s a one-handed catch, he can make that one-handed catch.”
Reed said the trio of receivers has not been driven by selfishness, something that tends to happen at that position in football.
“Ricky doesn’t have to worry about Fred coming into the huddle saying, ‘Throw me the ball.’ That’s very comforting to see,” said Reed. “Fred is as just much a part of Adarius and Jason’s success as they are.”
And if Ray can’t get them the ball, well he can just run, like he did in the surprise 14-yard draw play against Calgary that set up a touchdown just before halftime.
Ray, the first one to tell you his nickname is not “The Gazelle,” laughed when he was reminded of it.
“They were dropping a lot of guys in coverage and we just decided to pull it out. It was a good call by Marcus (Crandell, the offensive co-ordinator) to put it in the game plan.”
Ray said he took a lot of ribbing when they ran the play in practice.
“I got all the laughs. (They said), ‘Hey how far out can we call that? What’s your max?’”