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August 24, 2016

48-Hour Primer: WPG at MTL

They can come at an offence like a tsunami, wiping out any fancy-schmancy X’s and O’s by simply overwhelming the line of scrimmage and scaring the spit out of quarterbacks.

In short; solving, handling, surviving the force of nature that is the Montreal Alouettes defence is both a nightmare and a challenge for the likes of Paul LaPolice and Matt Nichols.

Then again, the same could be said of Orlondo Steinauer’s crew in Hamilton, Calgary’s bunch led by DeVone Claybrooks, and Rich Stubler and his boys in Toronto…

“Each week is a fun challenge,” began LaPolice, the Bombers offensive coordinator, after practice on Wednesday. “You find different things that are the fun part of the challenge of going against people. But… I’d like to play a not-as-great defence one time. That’d be fun, too.

“Montreal’s been great on defence all year. I love Bear Woods. I love John Bowman. The inside guys are good. The best thing about them is they’ll bring pressure from all different ways, all different fronts, and they disguise a lot of things. They’re talented.

“We respect the hell out of them defensively.”

The Als rank second to Calgary in points allowed through eight games at 23.3 and are all over the place statistically, ranging from second in passing yardage to last in what they surrender along the ground.

But their identity is anything but blurry: they bring heat. And they bring it from all over the field and from all kinds of different looks. By doing so, Noel Thorpe’s defence is attempting to dictate what an offence does by keeping it on its heels.

And on its collective back.

“They do a lot of different things, a lot of different blitzes, a lot of different pressures… twisting. They just do a good job of getting to the quarterback,” said Nichols, who will make his fourth straight start for the Bombers. “You watch on film and even when they’re not getting sacks it seems like quarterbacks are getting hit right when they are releasing the ball.

“It’s one of those things: you go into the game knowing you have to be ready for that, but doing the things we’ve been doing which is get the ball out quick, get the ball out to the perimeter and whenever we get some shots downfield make sure we hit them.

Brandon Bridge (1) of the Montreal Alouettes and Ian Wild (38) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“It’s the same thing every week, but we understand it’s going to be a physical game because they’re a very physical football team with a lot of veterans who know what they’re doing.”

The Bombers, coming off their first bye week, have a chance to extend their current win streak to four with another result in Montreal. And while the Als have been a bit of an enigma this year, they still have a number of veteran parts that can sting a team on offence, defence and special teams.

It’s guys like Kevin Glenn and Nik Lewis on the attack, Woods, Bowman, Kyries Hebert and Chip Cox on defence, and the dangerous Stefan Logan in the return game.

After practice Wednesday, Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea was asked, given their 3-5 record, if the Als were a bit of a mystery. His answer spoke volumes of what the Bombers feel they’re walking into Friday night in Montreal.

“No. I look at them as what they did last week,” said O’Shea, referencing their 43-19 thumping of Ottawa. “That’s a common phrase – you’re only as good as what you just did – and so five touchdowns by Kevin Glenn and a very good game from their defence, as usual.

“That’s who they are to us.”

 

BLUE ON THE FYI…

The Bombers (4-4) are in Montreal (3-5) this Friday for their only visit to La Belle Province this season.

Three things you should know after the club’s final day of practice on Wednesday before heading to Montreal Thursday:

EVERY DAY THEY’RE SHUFFLIN’

The Bombers finished up their final full workout with Manase Foketi getting most of the reps at right tackle with the starting offence. He’ll get the nod over Jermarcus Hardrick for his second straight start up front.

Manase FoketiThe Bombers didn’t yield a sack in their win over Toronto before the bye, while helping Matt Nichols throw for two TDs and Andrew Harris to eclipse the 100-yards rushing mark.

“He’s a guy we looked at and tried to get up here a few years ago,” said Mike O’Shea of Foketi. “With the depth, we believe we’ve got a number of guys who can step in without missing a beat. He did well last week, he’s very athletic and he’s tough. He’ll get better this week, too.”

The receiving corps will feature a couple of changes, with Gerrard Sheppard replacing Jace Davis and Quincy McDuffie added for Kris Adams. Meanwhile, two Canadians – fullback Tim Cronk and receiver S.J. Haidara – were released on Wednesday in salary-cap/numbers game moves.

“Chris Normand has done a really nice job for us this year, he really has,” said O’Shea of the battle at fullback. “It’s just a numbers game. Timmy’s a very good teammate, though. A very good soldier.”

DURON CARTER… IN OR OUT?

The ongoing wait for a decision on whether Alouettes receiver Duron Carter would be suspended or not for Friday’s game – a storyline which dates back to last week in Ottawa, too – doesn’t seem to be affecting the Bombers’ game plan.

Duron Carter (89) of the Montreal Alouettes during the game aagainst the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. on Friday, June 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)Veteran Montreal Gazette football writer Herb Zurkowsky caused a ripple among the press gallery at Bomber practice on Wednesday when he tweeted that Carter was absent from the Alouettes workout, although it was later reported that the gifted pass catcher was ill.

O’Shea said afterward the team can’t really be bothered playing the wait-and-see game.

“He’s a very good player and we prepare like he’s playing,” said O’Shea, “and you just run your system.”

Carter is under the microscope after bumping into Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell during a touchdown celebration that took him near the opposition sideline last month. He ranks fifth in the CFL in receiving yardage with 690 on 43 catches and has four TDs. He pulled in eight passes for 96 yards in the season-opening win over Winnipeg.

THE WILLY WATCH

They are questions which are only going to be asked more and more as the Bombers near the second half of the season with veteran Drew Willy watching from the sidelines: can they afford to keep him around as an expensive 1A?

Drew Willy Matt NicholsAnd this one, from Wednesday: how is the Bombers’ former No. 1 gun handling the change that has seen him give way to Nichols?

“Quite well. He’s extremely professional,” said O’Shea. “Like in his preparation when he was the starter he has the same mindset in his preparation. That quarterback room is a pretty tight room and you’ll notice Drew is one of the first ones celebrating when a touchdown pass is about to be thrown because he sees it before it is thrown. He’s one of the first ones off the bench to congratulate Matt and the offence. He’s certainly taken on a leadership role too from that spot, making sure that guys are doing the right things around Matt. He’s been very supportive that way. Extremely supportive.

“He’s a good character guy. Quarterbacks always have egos, they have to. But that’s separate from the type of character you are and how you conduct your business. He knows what his role is right now and he works hard in it.”