September 15, 2016

48-Hour Primer: WPG vs TOR

Tony Burnett stood there in the south end zone of Investors Group Field and, while several of his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates were being interviewed all around him, paused for a moment to consider the big picture.

And the big picture with this football team – a six-game win streak that is the longest in a single season since the Bombers tied a CFL record with 12 straight victories in 2001 – is pretty dang pretty right now.

Tony Burnett (26) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Yes, this winning thing, this winning a LOT thing, is something Burnett & Co. are savouring every moment of right now.

“I mean, think about it,” began Burnett. “A six-game win streak… you start at one, and then you get to two, and then you get to three and when you get to four… it’s a month. We’ve gone a whole month of a year with just winning. Now, we’ve got to five and then six and so it’s a month and a half.

“It’s very exciting, BUT… you don’t want to lose that feeling so you’ve got to come out here every single day of the week and treat it as if you just lost the week before. That way you don’t have a losing feeling again. We don’t want to come out now and blow it.”

“We want to keep this thing rolling as long as we can.”

Tony Burnett

The Bombers have found their template for winning consistently, and it’s right there in the black and white of the Canadian Football League statistics – It’s protecting the ball offensively, taking it away defensively, and getting some solid work from the men on special teams.

That sounds as easy as A+B=C, but every team has its own formula to success, relying on certain strengths to overcome certain shortcomings. Not every team, for example, is like the 1996-97 Doug Flutie-led Toronto Argonauts (of which current Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea was a member) that rolled through opponents with a 34-6 over two years including playoffs, en route to winning two championships.

Ricky Collins (3) and Tony Burnett (26) during the Labour Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Sunday, September 4, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The Bombers Grey Cup team of 1990, for example, finished dead last in scoring but was backed by a stingy defence that set CFL records for turnovers.

“This team, we were always expecting to win, but we just weren’t getting it done at the beginning of the year. We’ve shown ourselves that we are very capable by putting it on film,” said Burnett. “We know that if we go out and play our brand of football every time we step on the field, good things are going to happen.

“It comes to the point now where every week you are not only trying to duplicate what you’ve done, but get better than you were the week before.

“There’s no secret formula to it. It’s pretty much come out and play disciplined football, play hard, play aggressive and play for 60 minutes.”

True enough, but that template has taken a long time to piece together. Even longer, it turns out, for the players to recognize that’s the standard day in and day out.

“They’ve latched onto each other. They’re excited to come to work each day,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “There’s a lot of good things going on which makes it easier to prepare and easier to win, then.

“Does it take a long time or do I know how long it takes?” he added with a grin. “I don’t know… Two years and-something games.”



The Bombers (7-4) welcome the Toronto Argonauts (5-6) Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Investors Group Field

Three things you should know as the club completed its final full practice on Thursday in advance of Saturday’s showdown:


All eyes have remained on running back Andrew Harris and linebacker Ian Wild this week as the two key cogs have yet to participate in practice. Harris has had his ankles taped and looked ready to go for the last two days of workouts, but has not taken a rep.

Wild has played the spectator, too.

“We’re still waiting,” said O’Shea. “We were in this situation in Week 1 where it was right down to the wire and (Harris) came through for us. We’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a pro, he’s preparing… when you can’t take reps you sit there in meetings and pay attention and do your thing.”

The Bombers have a number of different possible combinations if Harris and Wild can’t go. Timothy Flanders has been getting most of the work at RB this week, but Canadian Pascal Lochard has also had some reps. The team is also looking at replacing Ryan Smith, who was injured last week, and both Clarence Denmark and Julian Feoli-Gudino have been taking turns in various situations with the starting offence.

Burnett is likely to get the start at LB if Wild is a no-go.

2016-09-13 Heath-3


New defensive back T.J. Heath, one of the CFL’s Top Performers for last week after his two interceptions, seven tackles and two pass knockdowns in Toronto’s win over Hamilton before being traded to the Bombers, is not a lock to be instantly inserted into the defensive dozen.

“He’s obviously as advertised,” said O’Shea. “Good athlete. Quick feet. Excellent ball skills. Now it’s just a matter of the amount of time it’s going to take for him to learn and feel comfortable in our system and for everybody to feel comfortable around him, too. This is one area we were a little concerned with (Julian) Posey being down and what do we do next if something were to happen. This certainly satisfied that need.”

One change to the defence is all but certain: veteran cornerback Chris Randle will return and will start over Terrence Frederick.

“Chris Randle is obviously a top-caliber DB in this league and it would be tough to keep him out,” O’Shea said. “He’s played at a high level for more games than a bunch of our guys. The one thing you notice about Chris Randle is he’s got that ability to drive a practice. He can change the way a practice is going, even, not just the games.”


The Bombers have taken 18 penalties on kick returns so far this season: 14 on punts and four on kickoffs. And as many are away, three of the infractions on punt returns have robbed Kevin Fogg of what would have been three punt-return touchdowns. O’Shea said those mistakes do ‘keep you up at night.’

The Bombers have worked to correct those mistakes – all three penalties were legit, all three were also behind the play and likely wouldn’t have affected the results.

“I think the majority of it is their decision making on the fly, in that very split second,” said O’Shea. “Some of these penalties are just a bad decision at that moment in time. But it happens very quickly. You’re not planning to run down and blast a guy in the back. They’re planning on going down and making a good, clean block and at the last second something changes. The path of the guy they’re blocking, they get bumped off… something changes and then the decision they had is now the wrong one.

“Special teams is like that. You’re talking about a 40-50 yard sprint with all hell breaking loose and trying to keep calm and making a good decision for your team.”