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July 28, 2016

Tait’s Take: WPG at EDM

Kevin Fogg (23) and Matt Bucknor (2) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers tackle Chris Tetzlaff (89) of the Edmonton Eskimos during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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Anderson's Hitch N Post

 

EDMONTON – The recent history is ugly. It always is when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers venture west to Alberta, an absolute graveyard in which they’ve won once in their last 17 visits to both Calgary and Edmonton.

But one of the underlying themes for the Bombers over the last few days – a week in which they are dealing with a ton of change, including at the quarterback position – is to not spend even one nanosecond peeking in the rear-view mirror.

And that’s probably a good thing, seeing as the first five games features a whole pile of gruesome through a 1-4 start.

So, as much as there is all kinds of noise swirling around this football team right now, the approach heading into Thursday’s match-up is to think small. After all, this big-picture chatter that comes with their struggles means nothing when the Bombers step onto the turf at Commonwealth Stadium.

Jamaal Westerman

“The only thing we’ve been thinking about is we look at the last time we played Edmonton and seeing what they did well, what we did well and what we have to work on,” said Bombers defensive end Jamaal Westerman Wednesday afternoon. “We’re focused on them… common opponents and what they’ve done to be successful and what we can to exploit some of the things they haven’t done that well.

“That’s the only thing you’re focused on. You’re not thinking about the bigger picture of the season, you focus on individual plays… what do they do first and 10? What do they do second and long when they’re in certain formations?”

Asked to take a temperature of the mood of the Bombers right now – angry, frustrated or both – Westerman offered this:

“It’s not an emotional thing, it’s more of a passionate thing. Guys want to go out there and play with passion. Anger, frustration is more of an emotional response to it.”

Jamaal Westerman

“Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean anything. What are you going to do? Are you going to prepare better? Are you going to watch more film? Are you going to go to sleep a little earlier, hydrate better? You look at your play and the things you should be doing to improve your play.

“Right now we’re 100 percent locked and loaded on the game at hand.”

The Bombers will be waltzing into a bit of a hornet’s nest here. Check that, it’s a LOT of a hornet’s nest after the champs blew a 31-6 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter in what was a record comeback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. That 25-point comeback tied for the sixth highest in Canadian Football League history.

At the centre of it all for the visitors will be Matt Nichols, the former Eskimos quarterback essentially kicked to the curb last September – he was traded to the Bombers for just a seventh-round draft pick – but who is being asked to spark an attack that has struggled to get ignited.

“This is a here-and-now business,” said Nichols. “Even in those games where I was filling in for an injured quarterback, it’s still the same basic pressure where you need to go out and perform for your team, take care of the ball and do all the things you’re ask to do and win football games.

“For me, I just look at this as another opportunity to go out there and play this game. I’ve been through a lot where I appreciate every opportunity I get to be out on the field. I’m not thinking about next week or five weeks from now. I’m thinking about this week.

“It’s a one-game season right now and I’m looking forward to going out and showing my teammates I’m going to play with passion and do my job.”

Kevin Fogg (23) and Matt Bucknor (2) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers tackle Chris Tetzlaff (89) of the Edmonton Eskimos during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

3 STORYLINES

THE NEW/OLD FACE BEHIND CENTRE

The juiciest storyline out of Bomberland all week was the decision to bump Matt Nichols into the starting quarterback role in favour of Drew Willy. Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea has referred to the move as an attempt to ‘spark’ an attack that is averaging less than 20 points and is ranked second-last in the CFL.

Nichols doesn’t move particularly well and his arm strength would hardly be compared to someone like Henry Burris. But he’s seen a ton of defences during his day and the ball does come out of his hand quickly.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Matt Nichols, top, calls the play during first half CFL football action against the Calgary Stampeders in Calgary, Friday, July 1, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh“It’s a different set of eyes in there,” said Bombers receiver Weston Dressler. “Matt and Drew are both very good quarterbacks. Maybe Matt just sees things a little bit differently. Maybe it will open some things for us and hopefully we’ll take advantage of it.”

They’ll need to find something. The Bombers offence has coughed and sputtered through five games as evidenced by its time of possession woes. Winnipeg has controlled the ball for more than 27 minutes in a game just once this season and, not coincidentally, it was in their lone win (33:33 vs. Hamilton).

“It’s been different things each week, whether it’s been penalties, slow starts, quick two-and-outs on offence that have made our defence have to be on the field for longer periods of time,” said Dressler. “We’ve got to come out fast and not put ourselves in a hole from the get-go like we’ve done previously.”

MORE NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES

Take a deep breath here, folks… Winnipeg will have two changes to its offensive line with Jermarcus Hardrick moving to right Gerrard Sheppard (88) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)tackle to replace Pat Neufeld (ankle) and Travis Bond moving into left guard.

The secondary will have three changes with Chris Randle, Macho Harris and Julian Posey injured and Bruce Johnson, Terrence Frederick and Taylor Loffler/Brendan Morgan stepping in to help. Justin Cole is the new defensive end opposite Jamaal Westerman – he replaces Adrian Hubbard who replaced Shayon Green – while Gerrard Sheppard will make his first CFL start at receiver for Thomas Mayo, who was filling in for Ryan Smith.

That, coupled with Nichols being promoted to QB1, means the Bombers have made seven changes heading into Thursday’s game against the defending Grey Cup champions.

HELLO, MY NAME IS…

The Bombers entered training camp hoping to line up Chris Randle and Johnny Adams at corner, Macho Harris at safety, Bruce Johnson at halfback with the other halfback spot open for any number of contenders, the leading candidate being Julian Posey, who started one game last year.

They enter Thursday’s game with Randle, Harris and Adams on the shelf (Adams, who led the CFL in interceptions last year, has yet to play a snap) and with four rookies atop the depth chart in Terrence Frederick, C.J. Roberts, Kevin Fogg and Canadians Brendan Morgan and Taylor Loffler sharing the safety chores. Only Johnson, who is returning early from a broken hand, has extensive experience.

Look at it this way: the Bomber secondary has a combined 43 starts, 36 of them from Johnson.

 

QB COMPARISON:

  • Matt Nichols makes his 20th career CFL start Thursday in his first trip back to Edmonton since being dealt last September. He is 7-12 overall after going 2-5 with the Bombers after the trade last fall.
  • Edmonton’s Mike Reilly continued his dominance over the Bombers a couple of weeks ago, improving his career record against them to 6-0 by throwing for 465 yards and three TDs. He is 27-21 as a starter.

 

3 BOMBERS TO WATCH

  • #35 Terrence Frederick, CB

He’s more than a bit of an unknown for the Bombers and he’ll get the start against one of the deadliest receiving corps in the CFL. He was a seventh-round draft pick of Pittsburgh in 2012 and bounced around the NFL with the Giants, Browns and Saints before needing surgery on his shoulder. Now Frederick will be tested in his first real game dating back to 2013.

  • #60 Travis Bond, LG

This is an enormous man – 6-7, 356 – who will make his CFL debut after spending the first five weeks on the reserve list. The former Minnesota Viking impressed out of camp and may be one of the biggest guards the club has lined up in their history. He’ll be tested by the Eskimos defensive tackles, particularly Almondo Sewell and Jabari Hunt.

  • #14 Quincy McDuffie, WR/KR

If the Bombers are going to upset the Eskimos Thursday, they’ll need some magic from McDuffie and the return team. He’s got the chops to get it done and figures to get the occasional look on offence, where his speed could be a real asset.

 

X-FACTOR

#88 Gerrard Sheppard, SB

He’s a big target for Matt Nichols at 6-2, 211 and coupled with Jace Davis, gives the Bombers a burly couple of dudes to attack the middle of Edmonton’s pass defence. He’s also another unknown, like Frederick, who is making his first CFL start.

 

NOTABLE

The Bombers have made five changes to their 46-man roster (including two-man reserve), adding DBs Bruce Johnson and Terrence Frederick, DEs Justin Cole and Shayon Green and LB Sam Hurl.

 

JUICY MATCHUP

Eskimo CB Pat Watkins vs Bomber WR Weston Dressler:

Watkins is massive for a corner at 6-5, 205. And Dressler, at 5-7, is one of the smallest but grittiest receivers in CFL history.

“It’s always fun going against Pat,” said Dressler. “I’ve gone against him for a few years now. He’s a tremendous player, he plays hard. I’ve never really lined up straight across from him as much as I did a couple of weeks ago playing outside.

“It’s definitely an interesting matchup. Opposite ends of the spectrum as far as height goes and I make sure to tell him every time how tall he is as soon as we get out there. He just laughs at me.”

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FYI

  • Bombers coach Mike O’Shea leads the CFL in most challenges (9) and most overturned (5).
  • The Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats lead the CFL with 14 takeaways, and yet Winnipeg has managed just 21 points off those mistakes. That total ranks just sixth, ahead of B.C., Montreal and Ottawa. Both the Lions and Als have played one less game.
  • Eskimos QB Mike Reilly established a new club record last week with his seventh consecutive 300-yard passing game, passing both Ricky Ray and Warren Moon in the process. The CFL record is eight and held by former Montreal legend Anthony Calvillo.
  • Weston Dressler became the 41st player in CFL history to go over 8,000 career receiving yards when he caught a league-high 12 passes last week for 118 yards and a TD. Dressler (8,040) is 65 yards away from passing Chris Armstrong.
  • Edmonton’s Adarius Bowman has posted four straight 100-yard games to start 2016 and is averaging 135.8 yards per game. At this pace, Bowman would surpass the league record of 2,036 set by Allen Pitts of Calgary in 1994, and the Eskimos’ club record of 1,812 set by Brian Kelly in 16 games in 1983 (113.3 per game).