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December 4, 2017

Dual threat Flanders feeling at home in Winnipeg

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Timothy Flanders wasn’t about to make any hardcore contract demands with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – the man is just ecstatic to have found a football home, after all – but he does have one request now that he will be back in 2018:

“I’m going to make sure I tell the equipment staff that I’m not changing my number 20 and I want my exact same running back locker right next to Andrew (Harris). They can’t change that.

“It’s not in my contract,” Flanders added with a chuckle, “but I’m going to make it mandatory.”

The Bombers announced Wednesday that Flanders, the quiet but popular 26-year-old running back/receiver, had signed a one-year contract. He had been scheduled to become a free agent in February, but decided he didn’t want to risk what he had built with the Bombers after working so diligently over the last two years to find a place with the club.

“As an American running back you look at other teams and try to compare with what is best for you, and Winnipeg, obviously, was the best situation for me after what we did last year,” said Flanders.

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“But this is for my teammates as well… I’ve been with Andrew a couple of years now and we’ve become very close. I like being around the guys and I like playing for these coaches.”

“The decision wasn’t hard to make. I’m happy. (GM) Kyle (Walters) told me he had a list of core guys that they wanted to have back and he said he wanted me back. Coach O’Shea expressed the same thing. When you are in a place where you know you are wanted and you enjoy what you are doing, that makes the decision a lot easier.”

Two things jump out when assessing Flanders and his days in Bomber colours: 1. His patience, given he toiled on the practice roster for weeks in 2016 before replacing Andrew Harris after the veteran tailback had been injured, and 2. His dedication to widening his skill set to become a better receiver last winter.

And it was essentially that extra work he did as a pass catcher that helped him force his way into the Bombers starting lineup alongside Harris. The two posed a dual-threat for opposition defences, but it was the improvement in Flanders’ receiving skills that allowed him to line up at slotback during this past season.

He rushed 48 times for 254 yards in 2017, but also pulled in 26 receptions for 206 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.

“I wasn’t going to say, ‘I don’t want to play receiver,’” said Flanders when asked about making the positional switch. “I wanted to do what’s best for the team. I remember Coach O’Shea said he wanted me on the field because of what I can do not just on offence, but on special teams as well.

“Once we got that going it was hard for teams to try and stop both of us. Now LaPo (offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice) and the offensive coaching staff have a whole offseason to see what we can add to try and take this to a whole other level.”

“It’s funny, when (the switch) first happened we would joke around that LaPo told me he wanted me to come to the receiver meetings but I was still going to the running back meetings. The guys would joke that he’d say something and then look up and I wasn’t there so he’d send to get me out of the running back meeting.”

“I guess I would say I’m a running back that plays receiver, but you could also turn that around now and say that I’m a receiver that plays running back.”

The return of Flanders not only gives the offence potentially all kinds of wrinkles, it means the former Sam Houston State star has found a football home after first signing with the B.C. Lions in 2015 and then playing seven games with Winnipeg a year later and 10 more last season.

He’s also been with Harris during his days in B.C. and now here with the Bombers, and the two are extremely tight.
“Now I can come back to training camp knowing I’m wanted and there is a place for me, that it won’t be because Andrew goes down that I’ll get to play or how we might shape the lineup to get me on the roster,” said Flanders.

“I really want to help him get a championship in his hometown. I want to be here for that. But it’s more than that… we’re a tight-knit group. It’s not just by position, it’s everybody and I didn’t want to turn away from that.”