Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius gets first CFL start in absence of injured Harris

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EDMONTON — It's baptism by fire for Edmonton Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius on Saturday.

Cornelius makes his first CFL start at home against the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-1).

Elks veteran pivot Trevor Harris (neck) was placed on the six-game injured list Thursday.

Cornelius, who turned 26 on Thursday, called it "a good birthday present."

The six-foot-five Oklahoma State product didn't shy away from the challenge of facing the defending Grey Cup champion's ferocious defence.

Winnipeg, which has allowed a league-low 12.7 points per game, features the tenacious trio of middle linebacker Adam Bighill and ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat.

“They’ve got some studs over there, some big-time name guys, but we’re going to prepare like every other week and we’re going to be ready to roll,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius has been deployed in short-yardage situations for the Elks this season for two yards on three carries. His backup Saturday is Dakota Prukop.

Harris sustained a neck injury during a 32-16 loss to the Calgary Stampeders last week when he was sacked seven times.

The quarterback was cleared to practice this week, but withdrew from Wednesday's session because of increasing pain.

“Any time you’re dealing with a neck or head type of situation, an abundance of caution needs to be taken for the person and that’s what we’re doing with Trevor,” Edmonton general manager Brock Sunderland told reporters.

“That's why we've put him on the six-game. There's no timetable to these types of injuries, so we’re going to make sure that he’s perfectly healthy and completely safe before we think about football again.”

The Elks (2-3) are winless at Commonwealth Stadium in three games there.

The club announced new health safety measures for entry into the stadium. Fans over the age of 12 must show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test result done within the 48 hours before kickoff.

Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo was Cornelius's offensive co-ordinator with the XFL's Tampa Bay Vipers (1-4) in 2020. Cornelius started four of five games before the pandemic halted the league.

Elizondo said Cornelius possesses poise and a “cannon” of an arm.

“He can stick a throw into tight windows. He's accurate,” Elizondo said. “I think his composure and his toughness, he's just very even-keeled.”

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea didn't expect Edmonton's offence to change much because of the switch at pivot.

“We imagine, like in any system, that the next guy up is quite prepared to run it,” O'Shea said.

Winnipeg defensive back Alden Darby intended to do homework on Cornelius's playing background and tendencies.

“I'm definitely going to do my due diligence and do my research into stuff like that and try to get to know the guy, learn him, make him my best friend,” Darby said.

Darby also knows Prukop well because they were teammates in Toronto for three seasons.

Winnipeg tops the CFL with 15 offensive TDs. The Bombers rank third in offensive points per game at 21.3, behind Montreal (25.3) and B.C. (23.0).

Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros has amassed 1,479 passing yards through six games, which ranks second in the CFL. He's two yards back of Harris's total over five games.

Collaros has thrown nine touchdowns against three interceptions.

Winnipeg listed two kickers on its depth chart. That sets the stage for new American Ali Mourtada to handle placekicking while Canadian Marc Liegghio sticks with punting.

Liegghio missed a combined three field-goal attempts and two converts in Winnipeg's last two games.

Edmonton is minus defensive lineman Kwaku Boateng (leg). The team has activated veteran offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers from the six-game injured list and inserted recently signed linebacker Derrick Moncrief.

Winnipeg (5-1) at Edmonton (2-3)

Saturday, Commonwealth Stadium

MOVING ON UP: Bombers RB Andrew Harris needs 47 rushing yards to move into the No. 6 spot on the CFL all-time list past former Calgary/B.C. tailback Kelvin Anderson (9,340 yards).

WILD RIDE: Elks RB James Wilder Jr. leads the CFL with 561 yards from scrimmage, including 428 yards rushing and 133 receiving.

STRONG START: If Winnipeg wins Saturday, it will be the first time the club has started a season 6-1 since 2011.

This report by The Canadian Press report was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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