Friday, July 03, 2009

Slotback slog: Jesse Lumsden is Eric Lindros

Jesse Lumsden deserves credit for trying to make it as a Canadian playing an American position in a Canadian league, with a playing style which owed more to American football.

This is not meant to kick a guy when he's down. Given a choice between the two, you'd rather have the CFL with Lumsden than without him. However, the former Hec Crighton Trophy winner failing to last one quarter in the Edmonton Eskimos' season opener before injuring his shoulder played into a personal theory: Jesse Lumsden is a CFL analog to Eric Lindros.

Lumsden went down last night after injuring his surgically repaired shoulder on a hit from Winnipeg's Siddeeq Shabazz, who is lighter than him by 20 pounds. On TSN's panel, Matt Dunigan seemed kind of shaken, talking about how tough it was to see such a fate befall a player who has worked to come back from surgery and prove he can take the pounding in the CFL. Jock Climie also showed sympathy while evoking the games-goes-on ethos of football, pointing out if you can't withstand a regular football play, you should not be playing.

The Lindros comparison is a hell of a tag to stick on someone. It is cheerfully acknowledged that many sports fans hold Lindros, the oft-concussed former NHLer, in very low esteem.

This has nothing to do with personalities. It's just that there are similarities between the two beyond alliterative surnames (both with seven letters, too). Each athlete had that golden boy vibe about him, that whole jocky, ruggedly handsome thing going on (you can admit it). Both had a parent who was a prominent part of their backstory, albeit for vastly different reasons (Lindros' parents, you know about, whereas Lumsden's legacy started with his dad, Neil Lumsden, the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Edmonton Eskimos fullback of yore).

Last but not least, each benefited from a false idea about their sports. Both was built up as a next big thing by people who did not fully acknowledge that having a huge physical and skill advantage over your peers in small junior hockey or Canadian university football ponds is not a guarantee of sustained success in the pros.

The false idea with Lindros, back in the early 1990s, was that he was a prototype for what hockey would be all about in 2010. The sport was going to be full of 6-foot-4, 225-lb. power forwards who were as mean as Mark Messier while possessing the flair of Mario Lemieux. Now, with 2010 around the corner, we can see that was wrong. Hockey is back to being about normal-sized humans like 6-foot-1 Alex Ovechkin, 5-foot-11 Sidney Crosby and 5-10 Patrick Kane, like it always had been prior to the '90s. Lindros, meantime, had all his concussion and various other injury problems.

A lot of people still believe this stemmed from how he played in junior with the Oshawa Generals. He got hit hard then, but often players just bounced off him because he was so damn big. Lindros did not have to adjust.

One does not profess to know why Lumsden has had difficulty staying healthy since debuting in the CFL in 2005 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after setting Canadian university records at McMaster. David Naylor,'s football writer, was clear that this setback could short-circuit his career, as much as we hope otherwise.
"Lumsden has legions of supporters who will insist he's merely the victim of bad luck (including his former coach at both McMaster and Hamilton, Greg Marshall). But the evidence suggests otherwise.

"Which is why when Lumsden became a free agent this off-season, there wasn't exactly a stampede to his door, despite his significant talent. CFL general managers and coaches simply didn't feel comfortable building their offence around a player they thought could not be counted upon to handle even 10-15 carries a game. And the fact that Lumsden doesn't play special teams made it even tougher to justify a large investment in him."
That speaks to the false idea. Running backs in the CFL cannot be one-trick ponies. Having one less down to play with than the NFL means a running back must be a factor in the passing game. For a Canadian running back, you have to be able to play special teams.

The Toronto Argonauts' Bryan Crawford, who was the tailback for the Queen's Golden Gaels when they went 0-5 vs. McMaster during the Lumsden years, is pretty typical of the breed. Crawford, in new Argos coach Bart Andrus' offence, gets the occasional touch when he lines up in two-back sets with Jamal Robertson. In Toronto's season-opening 30-17 win over Hamilton on Wednesday, Crawford had four carries for 20 yards and one catch for 25, setting up an early touchdown. He threw a block to spring Robertson for a 46-yard gain (which ended up being a 61-yard play thanks to a Tiger-Cats penalty) and contributed on special teams. As Apu Naheesapeemapetilon once said, it might not be glamourous, but it's good honest work.

Point being, one irony with Lumsden is that he was a Canadian boy next door whose style was a better fit for four-down American football. The teams he played on under Marshall at McMaster were perfectly suited to his style. The Marauders, typical of most OUA teams in the '90s and early 2000s, played straightforward power football, using a tight end and a fullback on most plays.

They just bludgeoned teams until they ran into someone their own size, which in the OUA, was not often. Mac won games on the recruiting trail and in the weight room, not by coming up with fancy pants plays. Running backs did not participate much in the passing game. As for special teams, Lumsden was limited to the odd kickoff return, as Queen's fans remember painfully well. (In a 2003 game, Queen's went ahead with 30 seconds left on a 99-yard Tom Denison-to-Craig Spear touchdown pass, only to have Lumsden returning the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to the end zone to lead McMaster to an eventual overtime win. It's hard to see where people in the rest of Canada ever got the idea the OUA was the no-defence league.) In Lumsden's senior year, 2004, Mac tried to shift to a more pass-first focus to give itself a better shot at reaching the Vanier Cup. Greg Marshall adapted, too. Last season, Western reached the Vanier Cup with a 180-lb. scatback-type, Nathan Riva, playing tailback.

It is important to go back and understand what contributed to the hype five years ago. It was a trip to watch him try to defy the long odds of a Canadian becoming a feature back in the CFL. He was fun to watch.

There will be a great Canadian 1,500-yard rusher yet who will owe a debt to those who came before, such as Lumsden and √Čric Lapointe. After Thursday night, though, it's tough to banish that Lindros comparison.


Dennis Prouse said...

The Lindros comparison is particularly apt in that neither of them were particularly popular in their respective dressing rooms. Rumblings out of Hamilton indicated that none of the players or coaches in Steeltown were particularly sad to see Lumsden go, and it had nothing to do with the injuries. I guess when you have had people kissing your behind and telling you how great you are from the age of eight, you start to believe it.

Jesse Lumsden's biggest problem is his running style. Again, just like Eric Lindros, Jesse got used to running over smaller, weaker kids right up until the pros. He's kind of a taller, longer legged back to begin with, so that upright running style of his makes him a huge target. The only back I can ever remember getting away with that style was Sean Millington.

I suspect that Lumsden has played his last football game. Like Eric Lindros, you will see the highlights of him in his fleeting prime, and wonder what might have been.

Anonymous said...

Lindros problems with repetitive injuries were mainly with concussions.
Look back at the early years of his career and he was relatively healthy and very productive.
He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1995.
But once Lindros started to have repetitive episodes with concussions, his career ended prematurely.
But at least he lasted a good 13-14 years or so.
Jesse Lumsden, it seems, can't be counted on to last 14 minutes.
Obviously, he is talented.
He has had a few highlight reel runs in the CFL.
However, it has become a running gag with Lumsden as to how long he will last before he's out with another injury.
He is the polar opposite of his old man, who was a dependable, if not spectacular, CFL fullback.
I don't know what his problem is, whether he's genetically not suited to the rigors of pro ball, or his style of running is not suited to him.
Anyway, he's barely into his 5th year as a pro and the clock is already ticking....

Dennis Prouse said...

@ Anon - I think the clock has stopped ticking for Lumsden - he's done. When you see a guy go down with a serious injury from a routine hit like the one we saw last night, that's a huge red flag. It reminded me of the hits that ended the careers of both Dave Dickenson and Matt Dunigan. Both were very routine hits, yet they caused serious concussions. Neate pointed out the Jock Climie observation, which was quite apt - if you can't take a routine hit like that, it's a clear sign to get out. You may not be done with football, but football is done with you.

As for Eric Lindros, his career essentially ended the night of the Scott Stevens hit. He was a perimeter player in New York and Toronto, and by the time he got to Dallas he was just going through the motions.

Anonymous said...

Lumsden's problem isn't concussions, but a chronically bad shoulder.
He's already had two major surgeries on it.
For a running back, a bad shoulder is about the worse kind of injury to have, because that area of the body never stops taking punishment.
Looks like he should turn his attention to his fledgling bob sled career, because his football days are done.

sager said...

We know it's his shoulder, not concussions. Good point about the concussions.

Jordie Dwyer said...

Latest update.....It's a dislocated shoulder and as of this moment is having an MRI done. Eskimos will likely release more news tomorrow and they are hoping he may only be out four weeks, but that is simply the coach speculating.

sager said...

Just to follow up, the Hamilton Spectator's Scott Radley also wonders if Lumsden is done.

"If that injury is anywhere near as serious as it looked -- the Eskimos announced yesterday it was a dislocated shoulder and they're waiting for the results of some more tests before determining how long he'll be out of action -- the point has almost surely been reached when Lumsden's body has thrown in the towel. Rehabilitating injury after injury becomes fruitless when less and less significant blows cause more and more significant injuries.

"Translated: Lumsden may not want to admit it now, but it's probably time to start thinking about moving on. Which would be a shame of huge proportions."

Of course, he does not get into Lumsden's upright running style. That's too analytical for a Canadian newspaper.

Anonymous said...

More Like Brett Lindros, methinks

Mike Radoslav said...

Running style is an excellent point! I played against Lumsden at the MetroBowl in high school and that was commented on by our coaches. Those comments continued on throughout his time at MAC from a good people. His running style was too upright it looked awkward, and his final few years it caught up with him as he began to become injured on a more regular basis.

Another thing questioned was overtraining, he'd been attending and helping out his father who ran training camps since he was young did he overdo things on eh training side? Did he become too large for his frame?

Anyways it is really sad to see Jesse go down with injury, I wanted this guy to make it big and pave the way for CIS players. He certainly had the talent and the drive, but the fates certainly has aligned to keep him sidelined.