Some CFL linebackers may sleep with one eye open tonight, as there's news that one of the beasts under their bed may be returning to the league. Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press reports that the Blue Bombers are interested in offering veteran Canadian running back Jesse Lumsden a contract:
‘This isn't just a whim,' said Bombers assistant GM/director of football operations Ross Hodgkinson. ‘I'm playing phone tag with him and haven't actually spoken with him. There's interest on our side and I've been told there's interest on his side. I haven't confirmed the level of interest or whether we would come to an agreement... those are things that all remain up in the air.'
‘But it's a potential win-win for both of us.'
According to Winnipeg's CJOB, Hodgkinson got in touch with Lumsden this morning. No contract offer has been made yet, but that doesn't mean one won't come. A deal could make a lot of sense for the Bombers, as Lumsden has shown a lot of talent during his stints in the league so far. He rushed 98 times for 743 yards (with a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry average) with Hamilton in 2007 and followed that up with 87 carries for 584 yards (6.7 YPC) in 2008.
Before that, he dominated at the CIS level with the McMaster Marauders and won the Hec Crighton Trophy (most outstanding CIS player) in 2004. He had a cup of coffee with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks before heading to Hamilton, and initially struggled to fit in in the CFL, but by 2008, he looked likely to establish himself in the upper echelon of CFL tailbacks.
Since that time, his career has taken a different path, though. After signing with Edmonton as a free agent in the 2009 offseason, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in their first game and hasn't played in the CFL since. He has become quite a successful bobsleigh brakeman since then, winning medals with famed driver Pierre Lueders at international competitions and placing fifth in both the two-man and four-man events at the Vancouver Olympics.
Lumsden's bobsleigh skills illustrate just what an outstanding athlete he is. He's a big running back by CFL standards (his league profile lists him as 6'2'', 226 pounds), but he's got speed few men of his size can claim as well. According to CBC, he's been consistently timed around 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which seems reasonable from watching him. By comparison, this year's leading CFL rusher is Cory Boyd, who's slightly smaller (6'1'', 218), but was timed at a still-good 4.51 seconds at the 2008 NFL Combine. A flat 4.4 time would put Lumsden ahead of smaller-but-successful NFL backs like Ray Rice (5'8'', 210, 4.44), Steve Slaton (5'9'', 199, 4.44) and Felix Jones (5'10'', 218, 4.47).
Your high school physics teacher would remind you that momentum equals mass times velocity and force equals mass times acceleration, so it's incredibly tough to stop a 226-pound running back moving that fast. That already-difficult challenge gets tougher still when you consider that many CFL offences tend to go for small, quick players, and CFL defences have countered with small, athletic linebackers and safeties. That trend might be one of the reasons a bigger-than-league average back like Boyd leads the CFL in rushing by 140 yards; he poses a different challenge than Arkee Whitlock (5'10'', 210), Avon Cobourne (5'8'', 205) or Winnipeg's current featured back, Fred Reid (5'9'', 190). If you think Boyd's tough to stop, imagine simultaneously making him both bigger and quicker.
Of course, there's much more to success as a running back than just 40-yard dash times, but Lumsden has demonstrated that he's got the rest of the tools too. Part of the reason he initially found it hard to settle into the CFL was that using a Canadian, CIS-trained player at tailback was highly unusual at the time. That's become far more common these days, with players like York product Andre Durie of the Argonauts and Bishop's product Jamall Lee of the Lions finding CFL success. Lumsden also showed in his previous stint in the league that he had the ability to adapt to its speed and its schemes. If he can stay healthy, this could be a great move.
Bringing Lumsden back is far from a lock, though, largely due to those aforementioned health concerns. He's had plenty of injuries over the years, including the dislocated shoulder he suffered with Edmonton that knocked him out of the league. There are legitimate questions about if he can withstand the pounding of playing one of the game's most physical positions, and those won't really be answered until we see him do it.
For the Bombers or another team looking for running back help, offering Lumsden a deal may just be worth a shot, though. There are almost no backs out there with his mix of size and speed, and there are few experienced CFL running backs available at all (especially now that former B.C. star Stefan Logan has found a home with those other Lions).
Lumsden may just be the perfect solution for the Bombers, especially paired with a small but speedy back like Reid. That's a tandem that could cause defences to grip their pillows tight.