June 7, 2017

Training Camp Day 11 | Second Chance

Matt Smalley (22)

The phone rang – the call that Matt Smalley had been so desperately waiting for – and it forced him into a decision he was all too ready to make.

He had a choice: to continue chasing his football dream with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, as much as a longshot as that me be, or hang up the cleats and take a job in his area of specialty: computer programming.

“I had one offer and a couple other interviews, but football is my love and as soon as (the Bombers) called me I dropped everything,” said Smalley after another solid day at Bombers training camp.

“It’s difficult because there are a lot of things running through your head. Are you going to get a call? Are you going to have to wait a whole other year? You don’t know what’s going on. I was actually applying at a bunch of jobs. At that time I’m training and applying and there’s a bunch of things going through my head.

“I was wondering if it was going to be over for me. I had a lot of support… my parents, my brother, my friends told me to keep going.”

“You’ve got your whole life to work the 9-to-5 so play football as long as you can and keep dreaming, so that’s what I did.”

Interestingly, it’s Smalley’s educational background – he has a computer science degree from Lafayette College and was an honour-roll student in high school – which has served him well since his arrival.

Smalley attended a B.C. Lions mini-camp in the spring, but wasn’t signed. And when the Bombers were hit with a rash of bumps and bruises in the secondary this past week, the call went out to the Philadelphia product.

He arrived earlier this week, and despite being days behind other defensive backs – and that equates to years in the notoriously-short CFL training camps – has been impressive right from the get-go.

“When you come in a week and a half late, you’ve got to apply that much more,” said Smalley. “I stay up late studying my playbook, I’ve got pictures in my phone for when I don’t have my playbook. I always quiz myself and when I’m not sure I go to my images to look up what I’ve got.”

“Very quickly you understand how smart the guy is to come in on short notice, pick it up like he has and he’s made a lot of plays on footballs,” added Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He seems to have good feet and hips and he’s fast. Overall, you guys have noticed he’s made a pretty quick impression.”

Part of his instant success has been his dedication and work ethic. He’s got skills, too, as a former All-Patriot League First-Team all-star – he also returns kicks, FYI.

But there’s little doubt it’s his passion for the game, especially after not being signed by the Lions, that is fuelling him these last couple of days.

“Winnipeg called me and said they needed some DBs and could I fly out the next day? I said of course,” said Smalley. “I was waiting for the opportunity to play football again. I flew up the next day and they put me in practice the very next day. I went in not really knowing anything, but went in 100 per cent and tried my best. These last couple of days have been a good experience and I’m picking up on the gameplan pretty well and trying to understand the defence as best as possible.”


Comings, goings: The Bombers added another receiver prospect on Wednesday, bringing aboard Daniel Williams (6-3, 230, Jackson State) while releasing Canadian safety Justin Warden.

Williams left Jackson State as the school’s career receptions leader with 183, passing former NFL’er Sylvester Morris and a record that had stood since 1999.

Williams pulled in 73 passes for 1,004 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore and had 47 receptions for 599 yards and three scores last year.

Warden, meanwhile, was impacted by the work of Derek Jones, who has looked solid in the last week while playing safety with all-star Taylor Loffler on the mend. Loffler, FYI, returned to the practice field on Tuesday.

All aboard: O’Shea said after practice Wednesday that he was still in the process of letting players know who is travelling to Regina for Saturday’s preseason tilt and who will be staying behind. The club plans to travel with a 65-man roster.

Good day for the ‘D’: The Bombers defenders had a good day at the office on Wednesday, with T.J. Heath and Tahaan Goodman picking off two passes each, with others coming from Smalley, Robert Porter, and Jovan Santos-Knox.

“It goes back and forth,” said Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall. “The whole thing is we’re a football team and there’s going to be times where the offence carries us and there’s going to be times that we’ve got to carry the offence. But at the end of the day, it’s the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that are out there competing and our job as we go through practice is to make each other better.

“Sometimes somebody is going to have the upper hand, but at the end of the day we’re all as one.”

Asked if he had been keeping track of the interception total, Hall smiled.

“I don’t know… I just look to make sure we’ve got our responsibilities right,” said Hall. “I know we might have had six but we probably dropped another three. But I wasn’t counting.”

More Roc talk: Seldom does a day go by in training camp without linebacker Roc Carmichael popping off the page – especially with Maurice Leggett out with a lower-body injury.

We told you of Carmichael’s story in mini-camp and he hasn’t shown any signs of rust after being away from the game.

“I talked about him earlier… he’s just a worker,” said O’Shea. “The stuff about how long he’s been off, I don’t really pay attention to that. I get the information, I hear it, but I’m trying not to step on the field with some sort of preconceived notion of what the player is going to be like.

“If you’re a worker, you’re a worker. He’s good. The positive side of that is you believe he can sharpen up even more. He can play, that’s for sure. He’s a football player and with not only his skill level but his football acumen, his football IQ, but coupled with his great work ethic… that’s a recipe for success right there.”

News from the other side: The Roughriders will be without quarterback Vince Young for Saturday’s game as he has been ruled out with a hamstring injury he suffered during practice on Tuesday.

The former Texas star and NFL Pro Bowler has been trying to revive his career in Saskatchewan in the fight for the No. 2 job behind veteran Kevin Glenn.

“In that moment when the stadium opened, we wanted to try to get all three quarterbacks in (Young, Bryan Bennett, Brandon Bridge) to see who could handle the moment…” Riders GM and head coach Chris Jones told “Unfortunately for Vince, he’s not going to get that opportunity. We’re going with the other two and the big stage is there for them.

“It’s tough to get evaluated if you’re not out there playing. Vince is up against it. He’s been around football before and he knows exactly what he’s got to do to get back healthy and get back out and start competing.”