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October 27, 2016

48-Hour Primer: OTT vs WPG

Darvin Adams (4) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the pre-season game at TD Place in Ottawa, ON on Monday June 13, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

His numbers are right there for everyone to see in the black and white of the 2016 CFL Guide and Records Book, page 26.

Henry Burris, now 41 years old, takes up most of the type on that page and is listed underneath the very thin bios (especially by comparison) of Brandon Bridge and Brian Brohm.

Among other nuggets, it’s worth noting he suited up for one game for the Calgary Stampeders in 1997, and including this season, has now appeared in 276 Canadian Football League games, with 228 of them starts.

There’s more…

Get this; back when Burris made his CFL debut in ’97, no less than 31 members of the Bombers’ current 46-man roster were 10 years-old or less. Michael Couture, just to hammer this home, was three.

All of this is to say there are a lot of miles on the Burris treads. And yet the veteran quarterback will take the first snap from centre for his Ottawa REDBLACKS Saturday afternoon at Investors Group Field in a critical contest with playoff seeding implications for both clubs – the Bombers chasing second in the West; Ottawa still fighting for first in the East.

Henry Burris (1) of the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Shayon Green (49) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the pre-season game at TD Place in Ottawa, ON on Monday June 13, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“He’s just special,” said Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall. “When you look at people that have this long of careers… him and Damon Allen, they’ve stayed injury-free and that’s the key thing.

“(Dave) Dickenson would still be playing if he hadn’t gotten hurt. (Matt) Dunigan could still be playing if he hadn’t gotten hurt. You look down south, look at (Tom) Brady… what caused Peyton Manning to stop playing? It had nothing to do with his abilities, it was his injuries.

“He’s doing the same the same thing now that he did 10 years ago, which is scary. He gets it done. He’s adjusted his game from when he first got to the league but at the same time he’s very effective in what he does.”

Burris was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player last year, but had lost his job to Trevor Harris this season before getting it back three weeks ago. He still sports a solid 99.1 QB rating and has completed 68 per cent of his passes for 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

But his game has changed, as Hall suggested. During a seven-year span from 2004 to 2010 Burris averaged 4,594 yards passing and 531 yards rushing per season.

Those rushing totals have come down over the last few years – remember, he did blow out 41 candles on his last birthday – but the changes he has made does impact defences.

“He picks his times when he runs whereas beforehand, those young quarterbacks, they’re all over the place,” said Hall. “But you get tagged a few times and all of a sudden your body aches a little bit more and you learn the game a bit more. He’s become a student of the game – I’m not saying he wasn’t before – but there’s that experience factor.

“The other thing too is that he’s seen everything you can throw at him defensively because he’s been around so long.”

That’s a combination that still makes Burris among the most dangerous QBs in the CFL. Dual threat pivots can be frightening to any defence, but it’s the quarterback who moves around the pocket to buy time that is a nightmare to defend.

“They’re always looking to throw the ball, their eyes are always downfield as opposed to tucking it and running,” said Hall. “Usually when they’re tucking it and running they’re usually going to get a first down, whether it’s 10 yards or whatever. But when they’re looking downfield there’s 40 yards, 50 yards… those guys prolong plays because of their abilities. It’s a challenge for you defensively.

“I’ll tell you,” added Hall, “it’s a defensive nightmare. I’m sure for fans enjoy, they enjoy that. On the other side of the ball, it’s tough. But it’s fun.”

Ryan Smith (12) and Matthias Goossen (61) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the pre-season game at TD Place in Ottawa, ON on Monday June 13, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

BLUE ON THE FYI…

The Bombers (10-6) are home to the Ottawa REDBLACKS (7-8-1) on Saturday with both teams still jockeying for positions in their divisions – Winnipeg chasing second in the West, Ottawa still after first in the East.

Three things you should know as the club wrapped up its final full workout Thursday afternoon before Friday’s walk-through…

A CHANGE IN THE TRENCHES

The Bombers have moved right guard Sukh Chungh to the one-game injured list and he’ll be replaced by veteran Pat Neufeld, who has missed the last 11 games after starting the first five.

“Patty’s a tough, physical guy and he can play every position on the O-line and play it well,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “We’re very fortunate to have Patty back at this juncture. He’ll step in and won’t miss a beat.”

Neufeld will be making his 41st career start, but began the season at right tackle.

“I’m really excited,” said Neufeld. “It’s great to be back out there with the guys. These last couple of days have been good and I’ve spent a lot of time in the film room, too. We have one more day tomorrow to clear things up, but I’ll be ready to go come game time.”

Neufeld will step into a unit that has done a masterful job protecting Matt Nichols and opening holes for Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders over the last 11 games. In the last seven contests, the Bombers have surrendered just a dozen sacks.

“It’s an exciting opportunity and it’s at the point now where you don’t want to let the guys down,” said Neufeld. “Coming in with the continuity those guys have, it’s important to keep that going.”

Pat Neufeld

WELCOME BACK, LADS

In addition to Neufeld stepping in for Chungh, the Bombers will also get linebacker Maurice Leggett and receiver Darvin Adams back to their starting lineup. Leggett, who is a candidate for top defensive player honours, missed the game in Vancouver before the bye; Adams has been out since late July.

“We’ve talked about Darvin a lot lately and for good reason,” said O’Shea. “He had 500 yards receiving in the first six weeks. He’s a competitive guy, he brings a great attitude onto the field and his teammates feed off that. I think guys are excited to have him back on the roster.”

MORE FYI…

O’Shea wouldn’t confirm that Bruce Johnson will replace Kevin Fogg at halfback, even though he continues to work with the No. 1 defence. Even if he doesn’t start, Fogg will likely remain on the roster as an extra defensive back and continue to serve as one of the league’s most dangerous punt returners… The Bombers announced after practice the release of offensive lineman Alex McKay and receiver Quinshad Davis from the practice roster… Here’s O’Shea on Henry Burris still getting it done at 41: “Good for him. Better than me. He works extremely hard, obviously, to keep himself in the shape he’s in. He’s sharp, he draws on a lot of experience and takes it out there on the field with him and seems to motivate his guys really well, too.”