July 22, 2016

Upon Further Review: WPG vs CGY

Drew Willy (5) and Andrew Harris (33) during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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There’s a bit of a funeral feel to any post-game locker room after a loss. There can be silence, seething frustration, and occasionally anger.

All that means the interlopers – the media – often have to tip-toe around the scene in their attempt to get answers to often pointed questions.

So there was Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Darvin Adams late Thursday night after the club’s 33-18 loss to the Calgary Stampeders sporting a look of irritation on his face and a tone of defiance in his voice.

He wasn’t shying away from the questions. In fact, it was almost like he was seeking them out in order to be heard.

“I’ll talk. I’ll talk about what I see,” began Adams when approached.

“We’ve only played five games. Nobody in here is panicking.”

Darvin Adams

“We’ve got too many leaders for that. We’ve been working hard, but we’ve got to work harder. It’s simple. At the end of the day it’s football. That’s all it is.”

That said, the 1-4 start means even the most loyal diehard has to now be experiencing some doubt. Faith often wavers when a team has now lost three in a row and six straight dating back to last year’s Banjo Bowl.

Darvin Adams (4) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tommie Campbell (25) of the Calgary Stampeders during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Just as a point of reference; the last time the Bombers lost that many at home was during a stretch over the 1996-97 seasons.

“What feels different? There are too many leaders in here, like I said,” continued Adams. “That’s why I think this season is going to get turned around. You watch and see. Give it some more time. We’re going to make some noise.

“The leadership in here, the coaching staff, from the meetings to the field to the game… it’s good. From the owner down to the training room, we’re good here. It’s going to get turned around, it’s just a matter of time.”

That’s a tougher sell with each passing day outside the locker room. But if it starts to crumble inside, that’s when things could get dangerous for a team that entered the year with such high expectations after an active winter in free agency.

“You have no idea what’s going to happen when you sign anywhere or even when you are staying and coming back for next season,” said Bombers running back Andrew Harris. “You think you know what’s going to happen, you have a good idea it might be good. But these things happen. It’s professional sports. Those guys (the other teams) get paid, every team we play are good teams. We’re not getting blown out, though. The games are still win-able and we’ve still got a chance at the end.

“I don’t think for one second we don’t have the right guys in this room. It’s just a matter of us not collectively not playing well together and not clicking on all cylinders.”

Brandon Smith (28) and Micah Johnson (93) of the Calgary Stampeders and Derek Jones (0) and Julian Posey (29) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

More on the Bombers’ fourth loss in five games with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call Upon Further Review:

THERE WILL BE NO OFFICIAL UPDATE… on all the injuries the Bombers suffered Thursday night until the team is back on the field on Sunday in preparation for next week’s visit to Edmonton.

But the carnage was significant in the loss to the Stamps. Two units in particular were ravaged with Chris Randle, Macho Harris and Julian Posey all falling from the secondary and Jermarcus Hardrick and Pat Neufeld injured along the offensive line.

Trent Corney (43), CJ Roberts (17) and Brendan Morgan (21) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Just to revisit what we posted in our game recap, the night ended with Canadians Brendan Morgan, Derek Jones and Taylor Loffler starting in the secondary alongside Kevin Fogg and C.J. Roberts. That crew, collectively, had all of five starts heading into Thursday’s battle.

Meanwhile, Michael Couture and defensive lineman Jake Thomas were forced into action in the trenches. Couture is a 2016 draft pick with huge upside but with limited snaps, while Thomas is part of the rotation at defensive tackle.

What the club does next here in terms of personnel will be interesting. Both Johnny Adams and Bruce Johnson remain on the shelf in the secondary while the practice roster includes defensive backs Terrence Frederick and Travis Hawkins.

Up front, the Bombers are big on Travis Bond – he’s been on the 46-man roster, but has been one of the two inactives along with Johnny Adams since Week 1 – and do have Manase Foketi on the practice roster.

CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE ROSTERS are small enough to begin with, as just 44 players dress for a game. But when the offensive line gets crushed, it can lead to some big-time problems. Indeed, offensive line coach Bob Wylie – a master magician – had to really do some juggling Thursday when Neufeld appeared to injure his ankle. That saw the Bombers move Hardrick out to right tackle. Not long after that, Hardrick had a finger jammed in his eye, meaning Couture when to right tackle with Thomas moving to left guard.

All this against a Stamps’ front that is as good as any in the CFL. Calgary finished with three sacks but, given the circumstances, that number is more than respectable.

“That’s definitely a little nerve-wracking when two O-linemen go down,” said Thomas. “Luckily I had the whole line and Coach Wylie helping me out on the sidelines. And Matthias (Goossen) and Stanley (Bryant), when I was in there, told me what to do. That helped take some stress of it.

“All you can do is battle and hope the quarterback doesn’t get hit or let Andrew (Harris) get hit. As a D-lineman I somewhat know what they’re trying to do so I just tried to do what I don’t like O-linemen doing to me.”

“It’s pretty difficult,” added Bryant. “We had a D-lineman at guard and he really doesn’t know anything about the offensive line. I mean, I thought we did well, though. We kept communicating and stayed together as a group and just tried to get the job done for the remainder of the game.”

BRYANT HAS AN INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE on where the Bombers are at, particularly in comparison to the Stampeders. The big left tackle came over here in free agency in 2015 after five years in Calgary.

“It’s about mindset,” said Bryant. “We’ve just got to go out there knowing we can compete and win games. I don’t know what it is, we’re just missing something right now as a team. We’re just not getting the job done and it is kind of disappointing as a group knowing that we brought a lot of guys in who were key acquisitions. It’s just not up to par right now.

“I was just discussing it with the guys. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to do something fast because if not, it’s going to be the same thing as last year and none of the guys on this team want to go through that again.”

TWO OF THE MEATY TALKING POINTS heading into the game for the Bombers offence were trying to be more productive on first down and still working to establish the run game.

Drew Willy (5) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Calgary Stampeders at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)The numbers aren’t pretty in that regard.

The Bombers had just 108 yards at halftime against the Stamps and were trailing 20-3. Winnipeg started the game effectively on first down, with passes of 16, 7 and 11 yards and an Andrew Harris run of five yards on its first four first-down plays. But after those 39 yards, things screeched to a halt. The next eight first-down plays featured two incomplete passes, a sack, one pass for four yards and four runs for minus three yards.

All told, the Bombers 13 first half first-down plays totalled 33 yards.

THE BIG QUESTION IN THE DAYS AHEAD for the Bombers will be who takes the first snap in Edmonton. Drew Willy, to his credit, stood in front of the cameras and answered questions afterward. He was 23 of 33 for 234 yards with no TDs and one pick – returned for a score – before being pulled and replaced by Matt Nichols. The Bombers No. 2 then drove the club for its only touchdown and finished nine of 15 for 88 yards.

Bombers coach Mike O’Shea certainly wasn’t going to reveal who his starter will be without going over the film and consulting with his offensive staff, but this storyline is only going to heat up further.

“He tried to force that ball in there on that touchdown… he’s trying to make plays, right?” said O’Shea of Willy. “He also had some good throws. He threw that one down the sideline to Darvin (Adams). He made some plays and then he had one where he wants to have it back because he’s trying to force the ball in there.

“You can’t fault him for trying, though.”

THE LAST WORD… is a funny Gerry James story that arrived via e-mail late Thursday. After the Bomber legend and latest addition to the Ring of Honour had finished playing football and hockey, he turned to coaching. He was a highly-successful coach in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, including a stint with the Melville Millionaires that began in 1975-76.

This note from Global Edmonton sports anchor Kevin Karius:

“I was nine years-old when my Dad hired (James) to coach the Melville Millionaires. He came over to the house for a drink. My Dad said ‘Geez, I don’t think we have any mix.’ To which James replied, ‘I didn’t come here to drink mix.’”