06/20/2013 06:22 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Lions running back Harris wants to take on more of a leadership role

SURREY, B.C. - Some key players are gone from the B.C. Lions, but Andrew Harris will not forget them anytime soon.

Harris wants to be more of a leader — on and off the field — this CFL season as a result of the departures of star slotback Geroy Simon and others. But the Lions running back is keeping his goals to himself as he attempts to improve on a stellar 2012 campaign.

"At every level I've played at, no matter what sport I've been in, I've been a leader and a captain," said Harris. "Now that I'm accomplished at this level, I expect to be that leader and want to be that leader.

"It's not as a vocal leader in the change room, but I feel that I'm a leader in my play."

Harris can lead by example Friday night as the Lions host the Edmonton Eskimos in the final CFL pre-season game for both teams. After sitting out the first exhibition contest in Calgary, Harris will play into the third quarter as coach Mike Benevides attempts to get his veterans ready for the regular season.

"I'm sure I'll be playing quite a bit (Friday)," said Harris, who bulked up with more muscle in the off-season. "It's just good to get the rhythm, get the reps going.

"Even in Game 1, I can still recall from last year, you're just not as sharp as you were last year in Week 20. So it's just good to get as many reps and touches as possible. Every time you're touching the football, you're getting better."

Harris, once a longshot to make the team at any position let alone the premier tailback spot, had plenty of touches and showed considerable improvement last season. He helped the Lions finish in first place in the West Division with a 13-5 mark before being upset by the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Final. He led the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,830, becoming the first Canadian to do so since Terry Evanshen back in 1967.

Harris also posted the sixth-best rushing total in CFL history by a Canadian, running for 1,112 yards en route to earning league and division all-star honours for the first time in his career. He also recorded 75 receptions that ranked sixth in the league.

But as he enters his fourth season of active duty with the Lions, the former B.C. territorial protection wants more.

To achieve his goals, Harris will break the schedule down into smaller chunks and attempt to achieve his marks in each.

"Last year, I did everything," he said. "I hit my goals. This year, I'm splitting my season up into three sections, because I battled so hard to have an end point, and 18 games is a long season.

"So this year, I set it up into three different areas, and every six games I want to hit those standards."

But don't try to get him to discuss any targets.

"I'm not going to talk about them, because when you do hit them, it's in the headline," he said. "And when you don't, people talk about it, and you're kind of held accountable. So for me, it's just an internal goal."

While Harris has high expectations of himself, coach Benevides does, too. But the coach is not worried about the 26-year-old Winnipeg native's ability to live up to his own or the team's demands.

In order to be dynamic in the CFL, said Benevides, a team has to be able to deploy a running back that is effective as a receiver and can also rush the ball and block effectively, and Harris has the necessary qualities.

"If he just does what he does, and protect the football, we'll be fine," Benevides said.

But the Lions coach doesn't want Harris to place any high leadership expectations on himself. As his game matures, he must grow into a leadership role naturally even as the Lions attempt to replace leaders like Simon, who was traded to Saskatchewan, and Arland Bruce III, who was released and signed as a free agent with Montreal.

"Don't change who you are," said Benevides. "The leadership voids will fill themselves either the way you act, by the way you perform, by the way you're a pro (or) by the way you study.

"So while I appreciate the fact that he feels that responsibility, as I've told every single player on that field: Don't try and be something you're not."

Meanwhile, Matt Norman will try to be something he was not last season — a starting centre — when the Lions take the field against the Eskimos. Norman, a second-year pro who played guard last season, is being groomed as Angus Reid's eventual replacement in the middle of the offensive line.

But he is getting a chance to learn more quickly than expected because Reid has not yet recovered from a back injury that kept him out for most of training camp.

As a result of Norman's move to centre, rookie Kirby Fabien will play right guard. Fabien, a first-round draft choice (seventh overall) in 2012, has impressed thus far after electing to return to the University of Calgary last season instead of turning pro.

The rookie's presence in the starting lineup, although necessary due to Reid's injury, runs counter to Benevides' desire to give his veterans considerable playing time.

"I've got to get these guys going," said Benevides.

Notes: Another rookie, Matt Albright, a 21-year-old Dartmouth, N.S., native out of St. Mary's University, will serve as the Lions' backup centre. ... Former Lion Mike Reilly is slated to start at quarterback for the Eskimos.