October 20, 2023

Morris: Hardy aims to bring more to BC run game

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

The BC Lions have been very good on offence this CFL season, except for one thing.

The Lions are second in the league in net offence, averaging 376.8 yards a game, lead the CFL by throwing for 319.5 yards a game and are third in scoring with 28.2 points a match.

But when it comes to rushing, the Lions are dead last, averaging just 78.4 yards a game.

Running back JaQuan Hardy hopes he can be a solution to help solve this problem.

“I’m the type of player, I like to run towards daylight,” said the affable Hardy, who didn’t let a steady rain Thursday stop him from taking time to talk after practice. “I understand I have the football, so they have to come after me. If all comes to fail, then at the end of the day, I’m playing backyard football.

“I want to just make a play, just be a baller and have fun.”

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With Taquan Mizzell nursing a hip injury, Hardy will get his second CFL start when the Lions (12-5) host the Calgary Stampeders (5-11) Friday night at BC Place Stadium in a game that has playoff implications for both teams.

In last week’s nail-biting 33-30 win over the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Hardy had eight carries for 26 yards. He also made three catches for 40 yards. The 25-year-old, who played his college football with the NCAA Div. II Tiffin Dragons, in Tiffin, OH, wants to show more against the Stampeders.

“I want to improve on keeping my speed up, readjusting to every scenario, keeping up with the game,” he said. “I just want to play fast, have some fun and go from there.”

Offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic likes what the five-foot-10, 225-pound Hardy adds to the Lions.

“He brings a physical presence to the position, that’s something we’re really excited about,” said Maksymic. “Running the ball, he’s a one cut, downhill type of guy. Those second-and-short situations, he can just go and get the yardage we need.”

Hardy also proved effective in pass protection and made a smart play to get Ticats’ DB Dexter Lawson Jr. out of bounds on an interception return, when he pushed fellow Ticat DB Chris Edwards into him to bring the play to a halt.

“We saw it in Hamilton,” Maksymic said. “Whether it’s his blocking the linebacker or helping chip a d-lineman, something like that bring a physical presence that really helps that aspect of our offence.”

Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was impressed by Hardy’s hard-nosed style.

“He showed a lot,” said Adams, who will start against Calgary despite leaving the Hamilton game with a knee injury. “He helped me in protection, he caught the ball out of the backfield. He can run hard to get those tough yards.”

The game against Hamilton was Hardy’s first in over a year. He played three NFL regular season games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2021 but was waived the following season.

The Lions signed Hardy in August and he spent three days on the practice roster before being released. He was signed again after Mizzell suffered an injury in BC’s 34-26 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Oct. 6.

Hardy can be like a rubber ball on the field, bouncing off and over tacklers.

“I love to get yards after contact,” he said. “Running the ball, juking, hurtling, I feel like I’m very versatile. I don’t want to put myself in one box. I like to say I do everything well.”

In 14 games this year Mizzell has 773 yards and three touchdowns on 157 carries, leaving him seventh among league rushers. His two carries of 20 or more yards is the least among the league’s top-11 rushers.

Adams is second among Lions rushers with 324 yards on 48 carries.

“I’m kind of a scrambling quarterback,” said Adams. “I don’t think it’s bad just because of the way our offence runs.”

The Lions have used a pass-first offence to notch the third-best record in the league and secure a home playoff game. Maksymic isn’t in a hurry to change a formula that has worked up to now.

“It all kind of comes back to game flow,” he said. “We pride ourselves on being versatile as far as our game plans every week.

“Our only offensive philosophy is doing what it takes to win. If that’s throwing the ball, if that’s taking shots down the field, if it’s throwing short control passes, if it’s running the ball, then that’s what we’re willing to do.”

The Lions, who have a bye next week, still have a chance to overtake Winnipeg and finish first in the West. BC needs to win Friday night, then have the Bombers lose their final two games against Edmonton Saturday and Calgary next week.

A Calgary win, combined with Saskatchewan losing to Toronto Saturday night, gives the Stampeders third place in the West.

Many coaches believe to win the Grey Cup you need a running game come the playoffs, especially for games outside when temperatures drop and conditions can be challenging.

Maksymic believes the Lions have the talent to win no matter the weather.

Adams heads into the weekend leading the CFL with 4,653 passing yards. Receivers Keon Hatcher and Alexander Hollins both have over 1,000 yards and Dominique Rhymes is healthy again. Kicker Sean Whyte has also missed only three of his 52 field goal attempts this year.

“We believe that with VA and the guys protecting him up front, and the weapons we have on the outside, we can throw the ball in different forms of weather,” said Maksymic. “If it’s cold or snowy…I don’t foresee that affecting our offence as we go forward in the colder months.”

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