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June 25, 2016

Upon Further Review: MTL at WPG

Chris Randle (8) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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Euclid Cummings hasn’t been a Winnipeg Blue Bomber for that long, having just put his name to a free agent contract back in February.

And after arriving here at the start of training camp with his new squad, his days in the Manitoba capital might number all of 30.

So his experience with all the negativity that swirls around the Bombers has been, let’s face it, minimal. Oh sure, he’s aware of the Grey Cup drought and the four year absence from the playoffs. But he hasn’t really lived it yet.

All that said, he was also ready with this answer after Friday night’s disappointing 22-14 loss at Investors Group Field in the 2016 Canadian Football League opener:

“We’re still a new team, man,” Cummings told bluebombers.com late Friday/early Saturday after the setback. “It’s Week 1. We’re still gelling together; we’re still feeling it out. Our offence is going to get better, we’re going to get better, period.

“Remember, the biggest adjustments in football come between Week 1 and Week 2 in any season.”

Euclid Cummings

“Fans just need to hold tight. Week 2 we’re going to put on a better show out there, especially defensively.”

That’s the silver lining look at what happened in Friday’s loss, and it will be the message leading up to the Canada Day matchup in Calgary against the Stampeders.

Duron Carter (89) of the Montreal Alouettes and Kevin Fogg (23) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Cummings’ take has some legs, too, what with the Bomber defensive line featuring three new faces. Ditto for the secondary. And on the offensive side of the ball, there is a new left guard in Jermarcus Hardrick, a new tailback in Andrew Harris, while the five-receiver set Drew Willy was pitching to Friday night – and after Weston Dressler’s injury – included only two faces, Darvin Adams and Rory Kohlert, who were in the huddle with him last year.

Of course, all of that can also be seen as excuse making. And the rest of the Canadian Football League is hardly going to be giving the Bombers some space as they experience growing pains.

Patience is key, certainly. But a four-year absence from the postseason means everyone in this town would kill for a change in the current plot and it cranks up the pressure, even early in the year.

 

Weston Dressler (7) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

 

With that preamble out of the way, here is our post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes in our latest installment of ‘Upon Further Review’:

TEAMS ARE USUALLY MUM… when it comes to head shots and possible concussions, and the Bombers were the same when it came to wide receiver Weston Dressler after Friday’s loss.

Dressler was drilled by Alouette cornerback Ethan Davis in a head-to-head collision in the first quarter and, while leaving the field under his own steam, still looked wobbly. He did return, sans gear, to watch the rest of the game from the Bombers sideline.

Ryan Smith (12) during the game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Wednesday June 8, 2016 in Winnipeg, MB. (Photo: Johany Jutras)Asked afterward if there was an update on Dressler or if he was undergoing concussion protocol testing, Bombers coach Mike O’Shea simply said: “There is no update on Dressler.”

Dressler’s Bomber debut was off to a solid start: he had three catches for 22 yards in Winnipeg’s first two possessions of the game before his exit.

“That’s obviously something big, to lose a leader like that out on the field,” said slotback Ryan Smith. “He brings a lot to the game, he knows how to play the game and just to lose that leadership and a guy with that mentality out there hurts you a little bit.”

It also affected chemistry, clearly. With Dressler out, Darvin Adams – who led all pass catchers with 105 yards receiving, including the Bombers only touchdown – moved into Dressler’s spot, with Quincy McDuffie jumping in with the No. 1 offence.

“We missed a couple passes here and there,” said Smith. “But we’ll get it done. I’m not worried about it.”

HE’S 37 NOW BUT… old reliable Kevin Glenn certainly didn’t show it Friday in throwing up some solid numbers against the Bomber defence and while working behind a Montreal Alouettes’ offensive line that opened the season squarely under the microscope.

The Als’ veteran pivot and former Bomber – and Roughrider, Tiger-Cat, Stampeder and Lion (he was also briefly and Argonaut before Winnipeg traded for him in 2004) – completed 30 of 42 for 332 yards with a TD and an interception.

He flashed his trademark quick release, moved around the pocket deftly and, aside from one mistake near the Winnipeg goal line that was intercepted by Chris Randle, was deadly.

“It’s tough with a guy like that who has such a quick release,” Cummings said. “But when you’ve got a chance to lay your hat on him, you do it. You’ve got to make him feel it.

“We’ve got to do that more. Next time we’ll put that hat on him.”

ONE OF THE CONCERNS IN THE PRESEASON… that reared its ugly head again Friday night was the Bombers inability to move the chains in second and third-and-short situations.

Four of the Bombers’ first five possessions were two-and-outs and included struggles in short yardage: Winnipeg’s first series when Andrew Harris was stuffed for no gain on a second-and-one; a Darvin Adams end around on second-and-two was held to one yard early in the second quarter; Drew Willy was stopped on a second-and-one before the half (but the drive extended by an Alouettes penalty); early in the third, Smith was held to just one yard on a pass from Willy on second-and-two and on a third-and-five gamble from the Montreal nine-yard line that came up a yard short.

Those kinds of mistakes aren’t just drive killers, they are buzz killers – especially at home.

HIS FIRST OFFICIAL KICK… as a Bomber was an illegal kickoff and Justin Medlock’s first field goal attempt, from 47 yards out, clanged off the upright. But the CFL’s most accurate field goal kicker of all-time also bombed one from 58 yards in the third Justin Medlock (9) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)quarter, tying Bernie Ruoff’s record first set in 1975.

But it’s what Medlock said afterward that is a big part of why the club splurged in free agency to sign him. Medlock shrugged about the record, as if he was hitting a 20-yard chip shot. There’s a confidence with him that doesn’t smack of arrogance, but just a personal expectation he can make any kick – regardless of the distance.

“It’s good, but I figured it would be pretty close (to a record),” said Medlock. “I think the record for the CFL is probably 60 or 62 (62, set by Paul McCallum in 2001) and I figured it was pretty close to that. It was good to get that kick in. Hopefully we’ll get some more and break it.”

Medlock, like every kicker, gets a feel for his range in the pregame warm-up. And on a warm night like Friday…

“I figured 62-63 would have been the range,” he said. “We were going to try one from 60-61, but decided to punt.”

CREDIT THE ALS… for a solid performance in the opener, but the Bombers were also kicking themselves afterward for the many mistakes and the eight penalties for 98 yards. Still, even with a daunting schedule ahead – in Calgary and Hamilton the next two weeks, followed by Edmonton and Calgary at home, a trip to Edmonton and then the TiCats here – no one was panicking in the locker room.

Asked if the loss put a damper on all the hype and hope surrounding this team heading into the season, Jamaal Westerman said:

“There’s no damper. It’s the first game of the season. Of course you wanted to come out of there with a win, but I don’t think it puts a damper on the enthusiasm. I think it’s a damper that we didn’t get this win. We could have won this game; it definitely was a winnable game.”