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June 13, 2017

48-Hour Primer | EDM vs WPG Pre-season

No Winnipeg Blue Bombers prospect received more hype this spring – and yes, yours truly is guilty as charged – than T.J. Thorpe.

He was trumpeted as a guy to keep an eye on before the mini-camp in April, on the eve of rookie camp, and then again as main training camp opened.

As bad luck would have it, Thorpe then got dinged not long after the entire team took the field, prompting one wise-acre to state we had created a ‘bluebombers.com’ jinx, a la the old Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Well, here’s an update: Thorpe has been back on the field for the last two days of Bombers training camp and is taking reps with the starting offence and returning kicks.

And he’s creating a buzz all over again. A cautious buzz, but a buzz nonetheless.

“I like that he’s practicing again… he hasn’t practiced in a while,” said Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice when asked what he liked about Thorpe.

“He’s a real athletic kid who has some physicality to him, a real good route-runner… there’s a little of Arland Bruce in him. He was a great returner in college so he’s got some tools and I thought he had good intelligence in the meeting rooms.”

It’s here where the legendary Bob Irving of CJOB, interjected with a question and a comment.

“As good as Arland Bruce?” said Irving. “That’d be a real find.”

“Well, he looked like Arland Bruce in mini-camp,” said LaPolice with a chuckle. “That’s a different story than acting like him on the field.”

The comparisons, however early, are apt. Thorpe is 6-0, 200 pounds; Bruce was 5-11, 190. Thorpe was an adept kick returner in college at North Carolina; Bruce was a converted running back and returner in college at Minnesota.

And then, of course, there’s this: Bruce played for 12 seasons in the CFL with the Bombers, Toronto, Hamilton, B.C. and Montreal. Thorpe will be suiting up for his first-ever game in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Edmonton Eskimos.

“It feels good to be back out here with the entire team,” said Thorpe. “I only had one practice at the beginning, so to get back out here and help the best I can feels great. Unlike some of the vets, I was up here for rookie camp and mini-camp so I had a good idea of some of the install (of the offence). But you definitely want to go out and prove yourself to the guys who have been here to show that I’m capable of making plays and worthy of being here.”

So far, so good in that respect. Thorpe has really jumped out in the last couple of days and now wants to prove he can do it when it matters. The game against the Esks will be his first since a preseason appearance with the Washington Redskins last summer.

“I’ve been sitting out pretty much for a whole season,” he said. “I’m definitely going to be amped up and ready to go out here and make some noise.”

There’s more to securing a job than just the stat totals at the end of the night. Thorpe knows the number of catches and the yards he might pile up on offence and special teams are mammoth, but so too is being assignment sound – especially after missing so much camp.

“I want to show that I know what I’m doing, that I know the play calls, that I’m well-prepared and that I’m having fun and making plays,” said Thorpe. “That’s the biggest thing; to help make plays and move the ball.”

Now, it’s not like Thorpe just stood around and watched while he was recovering from injury. As LaPolice alluded to, he was an active participant in the meeting rooms and, in many ways, he became a better student and better prepared for when he did return this week.

“We have a saying, ‘Teaching is learning’, so any time I’m helping someone out I’m learning the entire concept at a position that I may be at later,” said Thorpe. “I’m learning what I do, what they do, and how I can get open.”

Thorpe has been through the injury woes before and the mental and physical recovery that comes along with it. He has suffered a broken foot three times as well as a broken collarbone and many of the other bumps and bruises that can keep a guy off the field.

“Ultimately, it’s gotten me to this point now,” said Thorpe. “I think I’m more mentally tough moreso than physically and I’m able to withstand the nicks and bruises.”

BOMBER CAMP REPORT

The Bombers wrap up their preseason Thursday night at Investors Group Field against the Edmonton Eskimos.

Here are three things you should know as the club completed its final full practice before Wednesday’s walk-through in our 48-Hour Primer:

NO FIREWORKS

Monday’s practice was noteworthy because it featured a couple of flare-ups that made it the most intense of training camp. And one of the combatants from Monday – veteran receiver Weston Dressler – attempted to tone down Tuesday’s session with a little levity.

Dressler arrived for practice and pulled on a pair of red boxing gloves during the morning stretch. He didn’t use them once practice started and the session was considerably less volatile. The offence also responded with a solid performance after getting roughed up a bit on Monday.

“They responded pretty well to yesterday,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “They came out and moved the ball well, made some good catches and timely throws. Overall, pretty darn good.”

MAN DOWN?

Veteran defensive back Bruce Johnson did not finish practice and left with Bombers head athletic therapist Al Couture while the rest of the team began post-workout stretching. O’Shea did not have an update, and said he would know more in a couple of days. Johnson has had a strong training camp, but there are some fresh faces all still pushing for work in the secondary alongside Chris Randle, T.J. Heath and Taylor Loffler. Earlier this week, Kevin Fogg returned from injury while Terrence Frederick, who started nine games last year at cornerback, was released.

Darnell Walker, Jr. is out for at least a month, but also still around to fight for jobs are imports Robert Porter, Chris Greenwood, Sam Brown, Matt Smalley and Brandon Alexander.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

This has been a short week for the Bombers, what with Saturday’s first preseason game followed by another on Thursday, and then the club has the first week bye in the CFL schedule before opening Canada Day in Regina. But that first real contest will seem like an eternity to a coaching staff which much first get through the final preseason game before making final cuts on Saturday.

Asked how they manage that, O’Shea said:

“The most important thing is making sure we’re physically ready to play this game, so they can give and show everything they can and give themselves the best chance, the best opportunity, to win a job. Beyond that, paring down the roster is the next step. So I don’t think that far ahead in terms of giving them all the information. They know the most important thing right now is the next set of meetings today and then dinner.

“We haven’t been in this situation before (with the Week 1 bye). We’ve got a plan we think will work and be advantageous for us and put us in the best situation given a situation we’re not familiar with.”