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July 12, 2016

48-hour Primer: WPG vs EDM

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS At left, Defensive linemen #74 Keith Shologan and #55 Jamaal Westerman at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp at the IGF Thursday.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Winnipeg was the most-hated stop in the entire Canadian Football League, and served as an absolute black hole for any team that stepped between the white lines.

Case in point: During a particularly dominant run from 1990-95, the Bombers were an astonishing 45-9 at home. And of those nine home defeats, six were by a touchdown or less.

There’s more: The Bombers had one losing home record in the 1980s, going 31-3 during a stretch from 1984-87.

Now, anyone who has followed this football team over the last few years probably knows where we’re going with all this. That 45-9 mark is in direct contrast to the 11-26 home record from 2012 through this year’s home opener.

And so, as much as last week’s win in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats was massive, if the Bombers are to re-establish themselves as a CFL contender, that turnaround has to – HAS TO – begin by making Investors Group Field a nightmare for visitors.

Drew Willy

“You want to make this a tough place to play for opponents,” said Drew Willy after practice Tuesday, 48 hours before Thursday’s home date with the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos. “I hope we can do that. We’ve got to be better at home.

“This place should be the toughest place to play in the league, with our great fans. It’s loud and I know from an opposing quarterback’s point of view, when I was on the opposite side I could tell how loud it was and the rest of the quarterbacks I talk to around the league talk about how loud it is.”

Back at the old stadium, there were any number of reasons as to why opposing teams despised their visits here. Things like the cramped, dank, visitors’ dressing room, which had all the amenities of a medieval dungeon. Or the way the hot sun always seemed to be burning a hole on the visitors’ bench in summer, with the frigid north wind whistling through their ears in the fall.

But most of all, the tone was set by an intimidating football team that treated any foray into their park as if it was a home invasion.

So what are the keys to making IGF a nightmare for opponents?

Well, stringing together a few wins here sure as heck would be a good start.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  At left, Defensive linemen #74 Keith Shologan and #55 Jamaal Westerman at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp at the IGF Thursday. Jeff Hamilton story    June 16  2016

“You’ve got to have crowd noise. They’ve got to be the best, and I know they are the best,” began Bombers defensive tackle Keith Shologan. “If they get loud, that makes it a hard place to play. But the only way they get loud is if we do well. So the defence has got to have some big stops and the offence has to keep the ball and keep moving it.

“This stadium gets loud. Grey Cup last year (when Shologan was a member of the Ottawa REDBLACKS) was extremely loud. And Banjo Bowl (as a Saskatchewan Roughrider)… it gets loud. Even the old stadium was loud.

“The fans here are top notch. They know when to yell and scream, but we’ve got to give them a reason to yell and scream.”

Keith Shologan

The Bombers, including the dud in this year’s opener, are on a four-game home losing skid dating back to last September’s Banjo Bowl. That, in part, is why there seems to be a lukewarm response to the win in Hamilton last week. This fan base, as loyal as it is, wants more evidence.

“We’ve got to prove that we’re a good football team,” said Shologan. “And we’ve got to build on that confidence from last week, too. Nothing is set is stone as to what kind of football team we’re going to be. The only way we can decide that is by winning football games. If I was a fan, I’d probably be the same way. But as a player, I know we can be good, we just need to build some wins and build some confidence.”

 

BLUE ON THE FYI…

The Bombers (1-2) are hosting the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos (1-1) Thursday at Investors Group Field in a battle of West Division foes.

Three things you need to know after the club finished up practice on Tuesday:

 

TIP OF THE HAT:

Bomber linebacker Maurice Leggett was named one of the CFL’s Top Performers for his handiwork in the win over Hamilton. Leggett recorded two interceptions, returning the first 50 yards for a touchdown, registering five defensive tackles and adding one sack. Leggett now has 127 defensive tackles, eight interceptions, eight sacks and three forced fumbles in 36 games with Winnipeg.

NEW FACE?:

Leggett may have a new face joining him in the defence this week. CJ Roberts has been taking a lot of snaps with the starters, but an official decision on the lineup won’t be made until Wednesday.

Roberts was a three-time all-conference selection at Colorado State-Pueblo and was a late cut by the Arizona Cardinals last September. So, how does the 24-year-old make a favourable impression?

“It starts in practice. I take it like a championship,” Roberts explained. “I get all my work in at practice so that the game should be easy for me. That’s how I approach it.

“I’m appreciative just to be on the team, just to be around this group of guys. If I have my name called I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve always done, go out there and compete. That’s all I can do.”

WINNING IS A GOOD THING:

The Bombers served up another very vocal, very energetic practice on Tuesday. Here’s Bomber coach Mike O’Shea when asked if he’s noticed a difference in his club’s morale since the win over the Ticats:

“You certainly enjoy yourself more after a win. There’s an adage, ‘Performance does drive morale’. I don’t think it’s the other way around.”

 

NOTABLE:

The CFL announced Tuesday that Bombers linebacker Khalil Bass was fined for ‘an unnecessary hit to a vulnerable player (C.J. Gable) in last week’s win over Hamilton.

NOTABLE II:

More on being dominant at home: in the last two years, Bombers have had a lead after the first quarter in just six of 18 games, and led at halftime only five times. And consistently playing from behind is hardly a way to capitalize on home field advantage.

“We have to do our part to get our crowd into it early, because what makes this a tough place to play is our crowd and how vocal they are, how noisy, how loud they are,” said O’Shea. “We need to do our part early and sustain that to keep them involved the entire game.”