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Argos linebacker Bear Woods has long history with Lions star Chris Rainey


TORONTO — Linebacker Bear Woods and running back/returner Chris Rainey go way back.

They grew up in Florida, born a year apart. They've been college rivals (Rainey at Florida, Woods at Troy) and teammates (2014 with the Montreal Alouettes).

They'll revert back to rivals Saturday night when the Toronto Argonauts (8-9) visit the B.C. Lions (7-10) to conclude the 2017 CFL regular season.

"I have a history with him," Woods said. "He went to University of Florida and I actually played against him in college, it might've been his freshman year.

"He was a good teammate in Montreal. He actually took us all to the movies one night during training camp so that was an awesome memory. I believe it was one of the Jurassic Park movies. That was a good time."

Woods, 30, grew up in Macclenny, Fla., which is about 300 kilometres north of Rainey's hometown of Lakeland. Both were undrafted following their college careers and spent time in the NFL before arriving in Canada.

After two years (2010-11) with the Atlanta Falcons, Woods played six seasons in Montreal (2011-16). Twice with the Alouettes he was a finalist to B.C.'s Solomon Elimimian for the CFL's top defensive player award (2014, '16).

Woods arrived in Toronto in June after being abruptly released during training camp by the Alouettes. This week, Woods was named the  Argos' nominee for the league's top defensive player honour.

After helping Florida win the '09 BCS title, Rainey, 29, spent time in the NFL with Pittsburgh (2012), Indianapolis (2013) and Arizona (2014) before finishing the '14 CFL season with Montreal.

The five-foot-nine, 180-pound Rainey joined the Lions in August 2015 and quickly established himself as one of the CFL's top returners. But last weekend he ran for 108 yards on 16 carries while adding six catches for 89 yards and two TDs as a running back in B.C.'s 36-27 win over Winnipeg.

"He's a game-changer," Woods said. "He has been at every level of football and he's fun to watch.

"He's always a handful no matter if he's in the passing game, return game or the run game. He can do it all."

Toronto's defence will certainly have to account for Rainey on Saturday. The Argos need a tie or win to finish first in the East Division and earn home field for the conference final Nov. 19.

A Lions victory means Toronto will finish behind idle Ottawa (8-9-1) and host either Edmonton or Saskatchewan in the East semifinal Nov. 12. B.C. has been eliminated from playoff contention.

"(Rainey) isn't your standard running back in the fact that he's going hit the hole different than a typical running back would," Woods said. "He's very slippery, almost snake-like through the middle.

"And once he gets by you, he's by you. There's no chasing him down. At the same time he doesn't carry the same weight like other running backs. If you’re able to hit him up, that’s beneficial. They utilize him so well and it’s going to be a challenge."

Toronto can't afford to concentrate solely on Rainey.

Quarterback Jonathon Jennings was 30-of-40 passing for 408 yards and four TDs versus Winnipeg. Veteran receivers Bryan Burnham (10 catches, 152 yards, one TD) and Emmanuel Arceneaux (six catches, 101 yards) were his favourite targets.

"Any day Jonathon Jennings is playing quarterback, he's a big-play threat throwing the deep ball," Woods said. "With their receiving corps, they're able to make big plays on the field. 

"The deal with Jennings is like any other quarterback, you've got to get pressure on him and make him make some bad throws. But he's built for this league, that's for sure."

Slotback Anthony Coombs will make his first start for Toronto since suffering a broken collarbone Aug. 19 in a 38-6 win over Montreal. Despite the Lions' struggles, Coombs thinks quite highly of their defence.

"Watching them on film, especially their defence, they're pretty tenacious," he said. "They've got my respect."

One adjustment East teams must make when they visit the Lions is playing in the Pacific time zone. The Argos left for Vancouver on Thursday, hoping the extra day would give players a better opportunity to get acclimated to the three-hour time difference.

"I've done it (from Montreal) going up the day before the game and it's hard to adjust then," Woods said. "So having that extra night, at least it gets you obviously more acclimated.

"That's the biggest help."

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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