It was Tony Burnett, Pascal Lochard and Julian Feoli-Gudino on Saturday.
And at various points before that in this renaissance season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it’s been the likes of Clarence Denmark, Travis Bond and Manese Foketi. It’s been Taylor Loffler, Terrence Frederick, Michael Couture, Quincy McDuffie, Gerrard Sheppard.
It’s been Thomas Mayo, Jake Thomas….
Yes, there have been many significant characteristics that have defined the Bombers’ first 11 games this season – and a 7-4 record after a 1-4 start. Among them; the turnover-forcing machine that is the defence; a ball controlling, efficient offence led by Matt Nichols; and some spectacular play by the special teams.
But it could be argued that the biggest change to this squad differentiating it from those that have failed in years past has been the overall depth. And when pressed into service, so many – both newcomers and veterans alike – have not just managed to tread water while on the field, but make one impact play after another.
In Saturday’s 17-10 Banjo Bowl win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it was Lochard – a free agent addition this offseason – filling in for running back Andrew Harris after he exited before halftime. Feoli-Gudino made two catches after Ryan Smith was injured, including a spectacular, twisting 38-yard grab that helped set up the game-winning touchdown.
Burnett, meanwhile, finished the day with three tackles and two knockdowns in relief of linebacker Ian Wild, who left with what looked to be a sore shoulder.
“It shows that we’re paying attention,” said Burnett. “At the end of the day, when you practice, the starters get the majority of the reps and the next starter – I don’t ever say ‘back-ups’ – get a minimal amount of reps. So, it’s about paying attention while the starters are out there and you’re not in and knowing what’s going on. I just didn’t wake up today and be able to go in and make plays. I practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and that made me able to go out there and make those plays.”
“When the camera is on, everybody sees the finished product, but we build during the week.”
Added Kevin Fogg:
“That’s been our season. Starting with our DBs (defensive backs) and then linebackers, and then on to the receiver side of things. It’s been good that we have the depth, we have the players who can come in and fill in and there’s no drop off at all.
“We’re all competitors and no matter who’s in, we all have to depend on each other just to do their part.”
The Bombers have now listed 71 different players on their 46-man roster this season – including the two-man reserve list – and been able to withstand significant injuries to their secondary, offensive line and receiving corps in particular. One of the approaches that have helped in that regard this season is the movement of players around within their position groups, so that a player like Fogg is able to play both corner and halfback, for example, or that the receivers can move around from inside to out, the boundary to field side of the field.
“We’re in a pretty good position that way,” beamed Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea afterward. “Guys are prepared and the coaching staff does an unbelievable job of making sure these guys are prepared.
“The players themselves, right from the first day of training camp, understand their roles and accept their roles and they thrive when they get that opportunity… they’re going to try and make a great play for their teammates.”
That was never more evident than on Saturday. But it’s also been happening game after game after game.
“It’s been every week, it seems like, where guys are stepping in and you don’t even notice it hardly,” said Nichols. “Julian came in and made some huge catches for us. Pascal came in the backfield and saw his first real game action, picked up a few blitzes, had a few nice runs and really did some nice things for us.
“For those guys to be ready when their number is called is something we always talk about around here. A lot of times it’s a cliché, next man up, well, we’ve been living it this year and guys have stepped in and made plays for us.”
More on the Banjo Bowl victory with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:
WE MENTIONED THIS… in our game recap on Saturday, but in one afternoon, Bomber Weston Dressler was able to move past four receivers into 32nd place on the CFL’s all-time receiving yardage list. Dressler had seven receptions for 135 yards on the day, and now with a total career 8,363 yards jumped past Darrell K. Smith, Stephen Jones, Tom Forzani and Jeff Boyd.
In his last five games – 4 ½ actually, since he left before halftime in the win in Edmonton back on July 28th – Dressler has 39 receptions for 508 yards and three 100-yard efforts.
Needless to say, the veteran receiver is pretty dang cozy in Paul LaPolice’s new offensive systems.
“I’m very comfortable,” said Dressler. “I learned from Coach LaPo as a rookie coming into this league and for my first two years. It’s nice to be working with him again and just reinforcing some of the things that I may have lost throughout my career that he had taught me. It’s just to get back to those fundamentals and make sure I’m doing the little things right.”
NOT SURE IF THE CFL TRACKS THIS OR NOT… but Kevin Fogg & the Bombers kick return unit has got to be nearing an official record. Fogg had his third return touchdown of the season wiped out Saturday by penalty, with newcomer Nick Temple’s illegal block infraction killing what would have been an 85-yard punt return score.
“It’s all good,” said Fogg. “I’ve got to just keep pushing it and keep going and not get discouraged and know that it’s still there. I definitely appreciate the guys on the unit blocking for me… I don’t tell them enough how appreciative I am of them. But I definitely do. I’m definitely glad that I’m part of this group and part of this unit.”
ONE OF THE BOMBER NEWCOMERS… who continues to pop off the page is cornerback Terrence Frederick. In just his fourth CFL game, the former Pittsburgh Steeler draft pick had a game-high nine tackles, a sack, and one of the afternoon’s biggest plays.
The Bombers were up 17-10 in the fourth quarter when the Riders lined up for what looked to be a 56-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Crapigna. Instead, the Riders opted to have their holder/back-up quarterback, Brandon Bridge, fake the attempt by moving up to the line of scrimmage to take the snap and then run wide, seeking the three yards needed for a first down.
That’s when Frederick exploded out of his position to drill Bridge for a one-yard loss, forcing the Bombers’ second of three turnovers.
“My eyes were looking everywhere on that fake field goal,” said Frederick. “I was looking at the sidelines to see if they had a creeper coming out late on the snap of the ball (as a potential receiver). I looked back inside and I’ve got two to three receivers standing in front of me. And then I see the quarterback running my way. It’s third and short… you can’t really second-guess yourself so I took my shot and made the play. It was now or never. Thankfully, it was the right decision.”
JUST FYI… Ottawa signed former Bomber kicker Sergio Castillo to their practice roster on Sunday… The Bombers’ time of possession on Saturday was 27 minutes, 27 seconds. That’s the fourth consecutive game that they have lost the TOP but still came out with a ‘W’… Riders head coach Chris Jones had entered the 2016 season with a perfect 4-0 record against the Bombers. That total is now 4-2 after the Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl sweep… Matt Nichols is the first Bomber QB to enjoy a six-game win streak since Khari Jones in 2001. He is now 8-5 as the Bombers starter… So cool to see the reaction to Dieter Brock being added to the Ring of Honour. He was a popular man on Saturday – including posing for this picture with two of his favourite targets in Joe Poplawski (left) and Rick House (right) and the line to get his autograph on Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday was l-o-o-o-n-g.
IT DIDN’T OFFICIALLY COUNT… as a tackle, but Matt Nichols tracking down Kendial Lawrence after a Justin Medlock missed field goal on the second-last play of the game – a Rider penalty brought it back – could have been a game-saver. Fighting off a blocker, Nichols brought down his former Edmonton Eskimos teammate with a dandy tackle.
Nichols has brought that kind of this-could-be-my-last-game passion to the field since replacing Drew Willy as QB1, and the tackle on Lawrence is just the latest in a series of uplifting plays that are driving this team.
“He expects that of himself,” said O’Shea of Nichols. “His teammates expect that of him. I don’t think it’s a big surprise. The guys understand that on any given play, guys are going to lay it on the line. It’s important. The team understands that and it’s what has held us in good stead in the last little while.”
Asked if that might have been the first special teams tackles in his career, even if it doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, the Bomber QB grinned.
“That might be one of my first ones,” Nichols said.
“I told Kendial before the Labour Day Classic that if he was ever returning one back I was going to tackle his little butt. We were kind of laughing about it. I’ll let him get over this for a couple of days and then he’ll probably get a video message of me tackling him.”