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Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Joe Smith in action during the 2008 CFL playoffs.

JOHN WOODS

Two years ago, running back Joe Smith was about to start a season where he'd win the CFL rushing title.

Now the three-year veteran is unemployed after he was one of 12 players released Thursday by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Bomber head coach Mike Kelly suggested his decision was two-fold: Smith didn't give everything he could have during training camp and young running backs Lavarus Giles and Yvenson Bernard made a lasting impression.

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"I've said all along, if you can't practise it's tough for us to evaluate you," Kelly said of Smith, who was hampered by a calf injury during training camp.

"Joe missed a couple of days of practice, but the over-riding thing is that we had younger players perform very, very well for us."

Kelly bristled when asked if Giles and Bernard showed enough that he didn't need to give Smith the opportunity to come back.

"We gave Joe plenty of opportunity," Kelly said. "He was at practice every day, he could have fought through some things."

The Bombers also released offensive linemen Matt O'Meara, Jean-Francois Morin-Roberge and Thaddeus Coleman, defensive backs Patrick Body, Ronyell Whitaker, Jasper Johnson and Nick Kordic, defensive ends Montez Murphy and Chase Ortiz, linebacker Neil Ternovatsky and receiver Terry Firr.

Some will be asked to remain on the seven-man practice roster, but Smith won't be one of them, Kelly said.

Smith, 29, signed a new deal with the Bombers in the off-season. He came to the team last September in a trade with the B.C. Lions for running back Charles Roberts.

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The six-foot-two, 224-pound Smith led the CFL in rushing in 2007 with 1,510 yards on 281 carries and 18 rushing touchdowns.

Last season with Winnipeg, he ran 69 times for 381 yards and two rushing TDs in eight games where he split time with running back Fred Reid, who remains with the team.

Smith has a reputation of being a bit eccentric and it showed when Kelly phoned him with the news of his release.

"I said, 'Here's what we're going to do' and he said, 'OK' and hung up," Kelly said, adding they made some calls to see if another team was interested in a trade for Smith, but there were no takers.

Kelly believes Winnipeg's backfield will still be dynamic, especially if Giles continues to shine like he did in the pre-season.

The 27-year-old Jackson State product, who was with Calgary last season but didn't make the Stampeders' active roster, had 12 carries for 161 yards in a 31-27 loss to Montreal, including a 77-yard TD run.

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In a 32-22 win over Hamilton, the six-foot-two, 215-pounder rushed 14 times for 77 yards and two TDs.

"I haven't seen very many guys in this league that can run down the middle of the field and make people miss and change their pursuit angles like he did in that particular (TD run against Montreal)," Kelly said of Giles.

While Kelly could make more changes before the season-opener next week in Edmonton, he likes what he sees so far in the skill and character of his roster.

"There's always a roll of the dice, but that's what makes this fun, too," he said.





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