July 4, 2018

Out of the Ordinary: Ticats Canadian RB duo a rarity

After the Hamilton Tiger-Cats win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week, head coach June Jones laughed when he was asked by the media if he had a third Canadian running back buried somewhere on his roster.

While the team likely doesn’t have a third tailback with a Canadian passport, they do have two that are turning heads around the Canadian Football League.

In Week 2, Burlington native Mercer Timmis broke onto the scene against the Edmonton Eskimos, running the ball 17 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The very next week, Sean Thomas Erlington, a 25-year-old from Montreal, tallied 11 carries for 92 yards against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Timmis found the end zone twice more.

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With his big stature, Timmis is listed at six-foot-two and 220 pounds, Jones has started to utilize the 24-year-old in red zone and short yardage situations. Thomas Erlington is on the smaller side at five-foot-nine, and is listed as a slotback, so his ability to run routes effectively, while also beating defensive backs, is what has made him so effective carrying the rock in tandem with Timmis.

“To me that kind of means between Mercer and between Sean Thomas Erlington, it’s not like they’re a fad,” said CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson. “It’s not like they’ve just popped up for a couple games and are going to leave. They’re both developing skill sets that should last them in the CFL. They both have the type of body that can take the kind of beating that a running back takes week in and week out.”

The running back position in the CFL is primarily filled by Americans. Just two Canadians – Saskatchewan’s Jerome Messam and Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris – are established starters at the position.

And that’s what makes the two Canadians emerging in Hamilton so interesting.

“It’s super, super rare to have one Canadian,” said Ferguson. “Let alone two of them.”

So rare, in fact, that there has only been three times (including the Ticats duo to start this season) in the last 26 years that any team has had more than one Canadian running back rush for more than 90 yards in a game in that particular season.

The last time this occurred was in 2015 with the Calgary Stampeders, where Messam, Jon Cornish and Matt Walter all shared duties out of the back field. Before that was in 2014, again in Calgary, between Cornish and Walter.

Between 1993 and 2014? It never happened.

Year Team Players (Canadian RB)
2018 Hamilton Mercer Timmis & Sean Thomas Erlington
2015 Calgary Jerome Messam, Jon Cornish & Matt Walter
2014 Calgary Jon Cornish & Matt Walter

According to Steve Daniel, the CFL’s resident stats guru, having two Canadian backs taking turns as the number one run option on the same team rarely happens.

One of the best comparisons came with Cornish from 2012 to 2015 and his backup in Calgary, Walter. Walter started twice for Calgary but only when Cornish was injured. While technically Walter started two contests for the Stampeders, he was still considered a backup to the team’s true No. 1 in the backfield.

Harris and Messam were both on the Lions roster in 2010 but they were there together as backups before really getting a chance to play. BC also had Sean Millington as their starter with Mark Nohra as his backup for several years in the early 2000s.

While neither Timmis or Thomas Erlington have been listed as starters on the team’s depth chart – in both Week 2 and 3 it was Nikita Whitlock that was listed ahead of Timmis while Thomas Erlington was listed at slotback – they are both capable of becoming one.

Thomas Erlington had his athletic ability on display at Tim Hortons Field last weekend with his spectacular hurdle over Bombers safety Taylor Loffler and spinning off defenders left and right. He didn’t find the end zone – the ball was handed off to Timmis instead for two short yardage touchdowns – but he showed off just how effective he could be as a part of their offence.

“There was a couple of times that he was spinning in the middle of a hole, which was kind of dangerous,” said Ferguson, explaining what he liked about Thomas Erlington. “There was another time where he does a hurdle down the middle of the field. He kind of ran recklessly but he ran with a purpose everywhere that he went.”

Timmis, on the other hand, has the size to be physical to go along with the ability to get up to speed quickly. That’s a winning combination that Ferguson saw during Timmis’ days as a member of the Calgary Dinos.

“People don’t realize until you stand next to Mercer that he’s at least like six-foot-two, 220 pounds,” said Ferguson. “Which for a Canadian running back is ridiculous in terms of size, speed, quickness. It kind of makes you understand when you watch him (while he was at) the University of Calgary, why he looked like a man playing against a bunch of kids.”

It’s still early in the season, and a lot of things could change in the Tiger-Cats backfield – running back John White is listed third on Hamilton’s depth chart ahead of their contest against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, adding another piece to the puzzle. If Timmis and Thomas Erlington continue their stellar play deep into the season, that’s when they could be considered a duel Canadian threat.

“If they both play 14 games or more, that would be a huge success,” said Ferguson.

“And at that point I would consider them a one-two-punch.”