All eyes will be on wide receiver Kenny Lawler when the Elks host the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night.
Lawler is still shining from last week’s standout performance as Edmonton (2-4) mounted a furious comeback to beat Montreal, 32-31. Lawler had 92 yards receiving and a touchdown, but also drew a series of drive-extending pass interference calls on the Alouettes’ secondary.
Of course, he’s no stranger to Winnipeg, as he was part of the last two Grey Cup-winning Bomber teams, and led the league with 1,014 receiving yards in 2021. He was the Elks’ most talked about signing over the off-season.
So the star wideout knows what to expect when his old mates play his new team at Commonwealth Stadium.
“They play a hard-fought game, they’re going to smack us in the mouth on every play,” Lawler said. “But we’ve got to match that. We’ve got to match their energy.
“If we’re playing timid, if we’re playing scared, that’s going to cause us to start making errors and falling behind on the scoreboard.”
The Elks have won two of their last three, but both triumphs were late comebacks over Hamilton and Montreal, who are sporting 1-4 records in the sad-sack CFL East. At 6-0, and with the two most recent Grey Cup titles, the Bombers are an entirely different ask.
Lawler says his teammates need to embrace the challenge.
“I’ve played with those guys. They’ve got all-stars all on their defence, all on their offence, it’s just a great team. They’ve built a dynasty over there. But we’ve got great players too,” Lawler said.
“We’ve got to come in every day, we’ve got to fight, and I wouldn’t want to trade in this opportunity for anything. It’s going to be a great opportunity for this team, to see who are fighters out there. Man, I just can’t wait.”
Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea was asked if his defensive backs can use their knowledge of their old teammate to their advantage.
“That’s a great question for our DBs,” he said. “Because you practice against a guy every day for a season, I’m sure you know a little more about him.
“But, whatever their offence is, it’s going to be different for our guys to learn. But I am sure the nuances of what Kenny does, they have a little bit of a better feel against a receiver they’ve worked against for an entire year.”
The Bombers will be without the receiver they brought in to replace the void left by Lawler. The team confirmed Thursday that Greg Ellingson will be out with injury. Ellingson has 518 yards receiving through the first six games of the campaign.
Edmonton’s Taylor Cornelius will start his second game of the season behind centre after being a healthy scratch through the first five games. Cornelius is the third quarterback to start for the Elks this season, after Tre Ford injured his shoulder and Nick Arbuckle was traded to Ottawa.
Lawler said having to adjust to different pivots is just part of the job.
“That’s what practice is for,” he said. “We’ve had multiple quarterbacks throwing us the ball. That’s where we find our rhythm. We try to carry everything we built in practice onto the game.
“Whether it was Nick, Tre or Taylor, we all had a certain chemistry. Right now, Taylor is up and he’s done a great job.”
Elks coach and general manager Chris Jones is fine tuning the team he took over in 2022. He will have defensive back (and former wide receiver) Duron Carter available this week. Carter hasn’t played a regular season CFL game since 2019.
As well, the team signed Canadian running back Maleek Irons, who had just one carry with Hamilton this season. He is listed as a starter on the depth chart.
“He’s a high-character guy who a lot of our people know. He comes highly recommended by them,” Jones said.
Irons drove 36 hours to get to Edmonton after being cut by the Tiger-Cats.
“All I know is that I am playing, I don’t know how big my role will be. But, whatever role it is, I am ready to take it on,” he said. “I like the offence a lot so far. It’s very much inside zone. I’m a big inside zone guy.”
He called making his Elks debut against Winnipeg a “trial by fire.”
“I’m excited for it. It’s a great opportunity,” Irons said. “What makes them a great team is that they’re coached well, they’re disciplined and they’re very consistent.
“They don’t take a lot of penalties and they don’t turn the ball over. If you don’t take penalties and don’t turn the ball over, you’ll be in a lot of football games.”