WINNIPEG - What a difference a year makes.
When the 2011 season got under way, Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Chris Garrett was released following training camp after seeing little action in 2010.
The Bombers stuck him on the practice roster in August, though, and his big chance came Sept. 30.
In a physically punishing 25-24 loss to the Toronto Argonauts Sept. 24, CFL all-star Fred Reid and No. 1 backup Carl Volny were both wiped out for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Quarterback Buck Pierce was also sidelined when a prior rib injury was aggravated.
Garrett dressed the next week against Montreal and, despite a 32-26 loss behind backup pivot Alex Brink, he rushed for 76 yards.
A week later, in his second professional start, he had 131, the first time all season Winnipeg cracked 100 as they downed Hamilton 33-17.
His best performance was the 190 yards he put on the board in the East final that got Winnipeg into the Grey Cup.
He closed with 576 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries in only six regular season games.
This season, Reid is gone, Volny is coming back but still largely untested, and Garrett, a 25-year-old native of New York, is coming to camp as the starter.
"Going into camp the No. 1 guy is a big difference than going in a guy that has to fight and claw," he says.
Not that a little fighting and clawing isn't de rigueur to retain that No. 1 spot, but he knows that and feels ready.
"There were things I could have done better and things I worked at in the off-season. . . I learn new things every day and I apply them to my game."
The Bombers have a history of great running backs, even though their shelf life is pretty limited.
Reid was released in February. At almost 30, and coming off a major injury, there was little grumbling from fans, despite his stellar performances over the years and place the record books.
"He's a standup guy," says Garrett. "He's a guy when I got here he took me under his wing. He pretty well showed me the ropes in terms of being a professional. I learned a lot from him and he's a great pro and he's a great person."
As for the longevity of anyone in a position that takes some of the most punishment in the CFL, Garrett is under no illusions about what will happen, someday.
"I'm not in that age bracket yet but I guess, when the time comes, this is first and foremost a business. . . In the off-season you've to work hard to put on the pounds to take the blows. It's not a pretty job but you've got to do it."
There was no sign Reid was slowing down much, until the torn ACL put an end to his season and, ultimately perhaps, his CFL career. He has yet to sign on with another team.
In 2011, prior to the injury, Reid had carried the ball 181 times for 759 yards and four touchdowns. His previous two seasons had both seen 1,000-yard-plus performances and in five CFL seasons he was an East all-star three times and league all-star once.
His best was 2010, when he carried the ball 213 times for 1,396 yards. In 2009, he set a team record for rushing in a single game with 260 yards.
Reid in turn replaced Charles Roberts, one of the best running backs in CFL history with six 1,000-yard-plus seasons (two of them topping 1,600). The six-time CFL all-star is Winnipeg's all-time leading rusher and sits fifth on the CFL list.
The sometimes prickly player was a year short of that seemingly magic age of 30 for running backs in 2008 when he was traded to the B.C. Lions, where he ended his CFL career.
That's the kind of talent Garrett must measure himself against if he wants to impress the coaches and fans in Winnipeg.
"Guys like Blink Roberts, Willard Reaves Fred Reid, just to have those guys lay forth the ground work for me to follow. . . it's an honour," says Garrett.
"I'm not by far at their type of game yet but I feel that if I play here long enough with those types of seasons, maybe my name will be up there with them."
The competition in camp this season includes Chad Simpson, who played a couple of seasons with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.
Also coming to camp are 2010 CFL draft pick Anthony Woodson of Calgary and import Bloi-Dei Dorzon, who spent last season on Winnipeg's practice roster.