MONTREAL -- He has yet to make people forget about the legendary Mike Pringle, but for a guy who thought he might not make the team coming out of training camp in 2009, Avon Cobourne's off to a pretty remarkable start as the Alouettes' primary tailback.
All the diminutive 5-foot-8, 193-pounder accomplished was rushing for 1,214 yards while scoring a Canadian Football League-leading 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. And for an encore, he was named the most valuable player in Montreal's Grey Cup victory against Saskatchewan.
Cobourne, entering his fifth season with the Als, didn't become the team's starting tailback until 2008. And, at that, he played only 12 games, bothered by a nagging and recurring ankle injury. Going into last year, it was imperative that Cobourne display his stamina over a long and arduous season. And he generally succeeded, missing only one game, against Calgary in October, with a groin injury. He was also a healthy scratch from the team's regular-season finale, against Toronto.
Cobourne had surgery during the winter of 2009, the nature of which he has never disclosed, although it was assumed the procedure cleaned out his knee or, perhaps, his ankle. That, in turn, led to his reticence. He still wasn't certain he was the leading candidate for the position, he explained.
"I honestly thought I'd be cut at training camp, because I came into it injured," Cobourne said yesterday after the team worked out indoors at the Lachine Soccerplexe. "I didn't go into the season fully healthy and can't say that I regained my health until mid-season. But they kept staying with me."
Despite the injury, two of Cobourne's first three games produced efforts in excess of 100 yards. But then there were four consecutive lean games, during which he failed to surpass 60 yards. But he also didn't receive as many carries in those games which, he now admits, was a blessing in disguise, since it afforded him the time to regain his health.
Cobourne doesn't believe he had anything to prove to his teammates or rivals throughout the league. But it's only natural there had to be some uncertainty heading into a new season, although the ankle injury was a fluke, sustained after a player fell into his leg. Yet until a player proves he's durable, there's always going to be nagging concerns.
"Honestly, guys in the league know me and the type of player that I am," said Cobourne, 31. "If I'm not injured, I'm going to play. The guys on the team definitely know that. They know the character that I have.
"I never worried if people thought I could sustain it."
It has been well documented that Cobourne's odyssey to regular employment with the Als wasn't easy. He made his mark initially on special teams and, to make sure there would always be a roster spot for him on special teams, a previous coaches attempted converting him into a linebacker.
"You'll never see a guy practise as hard as me," he said. "That's how I won a spot, going as hard as I did."
Of the four 100-yard rushing games produced by Cobourne last season, it's likely no coincidence two came at the expense of the Riders, and their unconventional and constantly-changing defensive fronts. Get by the first wave of defenders, and a running back potentially could run forever.
Although the Als are opening the season against Saskatchewan at Mosaic Stadium -a site the team announced yesterday already is sold out -this Thursday, Cobourne was loath to make any predictions concerning the game or coming year.
"I just want to know my plays and be great," he said. "Trestman tells us to be a master of your position. Guys are good. Some are great, but not many are masters.
"We have a lot of guys on this offence who are great. And we've got to spread the ball around," he added. "When you get the chance, you've got to make plays. It's crazy. The running back should get the ball 25 per cent of the time. But here, some games, it may only be 5 per cent. It has been a growing process. I had to come in and mature into the role, understanding that sometimes will be the way the game flows." Notes - Weakside cornerback Mark Estelle will miss the game with a hamstring injury. He'll be replaced by De'Audra Dix. And, with an opening in the secondary, Tanard Davis will be activated off the practice roster. ... Former Winnipeg running-back Emmanuel Marc has been added to the PR.