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June 14, 2017

Game Preview | EDM vs WPG Pre-season

Kendall Roberson (42) Picture: Arthur Ward

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This is how Kendall Roberson works best: he puts the blinders on and does his thing, one day, one 10-minute chunk at a time.

It’s about squeezing the best out of a meeting, out of a work-out session, a practice or a game. It’s all he knows, and it served him well during a starry career at tiny East Texas Baptist University that earned him interest from the National Football League.

But that interest waned a year ago, bringing him north to Canada.

And even though the Winnipeg Blue Bombers depth chart offers the running back very little opportunity – the starting gig is owned by Andrew Harris, while Timothy Flanders was more-than-solid in relief last year – he has to revert back to his old formula, especially as the club concludes its preseason schedule Thursday night against the Edmonton Eskimos.

Head down, one day, one 10-minute chunk at a time.

“This is an opportunity, it’s a blessing,” began Roberson Wednesday as the Bombers wrapped up their final preparations for the Eskimos. “This is something not a lot of people get to do and I love Winnipeg, I love my teammates, I love my coaches. If there’s something I can do to help this team and put a stamp on my name to benefit the team and myself… that’s something I want to grab and keep running with.”

Kendall Roberson (42)

Roberson took a solid step in last weekend’s 25-25 tie with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, rushing six times for 36 yards and pulling in one pass for 11 yards on a third-and-six gamble. His own worst critic, Roberson said he has some things in his game he wants to clean up against Edmonton.

But again, he’s battling for work at a spot on the depth chart in which the names are written in ink, not pencil. That big-picture thinking/worrying, however, will do him no good in his pursuit.

“Being here… it’s a heavy dose of realizing that this is a job and this is something you are working toward every day,” Roberson said. “You want it to last. As far as the depth chart, you just trust the coaches will do what’s best for the organization.

“I try not to look at that. I’m an in-the-moment guy. I’m trying to get better right now.”

The Bombers will have to make their roster decisions by 9 p.m. Saturday night, and head coach Mike O’Shea has long insisted that everyone in camp is constantly being evaluated on and off the field.

All that said, the games are always the biggest tool for evaluations.

“You’re taking an evaluation from your entire time with the person; it’s not just the preseason,” he said. “It’s meetings, it’s conversation, it’s meal time, it’s interaction with your teammates… it’s everything.

“You’ve got a pretty good picture right now, what you’re hoping for is guys really jump off the page in terms of playmaking ability; something that’s going to win games for you at some point during the season. If we have that happen, well, it makes the decision easy for them, for that guy.

“If you have a game where there’s a bunch of mediocrity out there then you watch the film more closely and rely more on previous evaluation. I don’t think that will be the case. I think the guys will go out there and work hard for their teammates and their fans, too.”

“It’s important to have an exciting game and come out with a physical, fast effort and give our fans something to talk about.”

Kendall Roberson (42)

STORYLINES

1 GET THE MOTOR RUNNING

The Bombers exited last weekend’s tie with the Roughriders with everyone raving about the work of Dom Davis and Dan LeFevour while at the controls of the offence.

And Matt Nichols’ stint at the controls? It was more miss than hit, as the veteran pivot completed five of eight passes for 32 yards and the first-team offence – minus Weston Dressler, Andrew Harris, Darvin Adams and Julian Feoli-Gudino – didn’t generate a point.

Nichols desperately wants to get that bunch revving.

“The No. 1 thing as an offence is to put some sustained drives together, put up points – that’s the ultimate goal, obviously,” said Nichols. “We don’t have any goals other than that. We want to put our defence in a good position where they have enough rest and can come out and do their job. As an offence I think we can do a better job than we did last week in just continuously moving the ball down the field and keeping their offence off the field.”

Nichols and O’Shea gave no hints as to how long QB1 would be in the game, but if he can get the offence into a groove quickly, he’ll likely make a quick exit.

2 OPEN AUDITIONS

As much as the Bombers depth chart seems settled, there are still a few starting jobs to be determined: middle linebacker, cornerback, receiver, defensive tackle…

“They’re all tough,” said O’Shea. “We’ve had a good training camp, we’ve got a good group in here and lots of depth. Finding that right mix and making those decisions is not easy. But I don’t look at it as tough… it’s fun. It’s great to see that amount of competition and the guys working hard to earn their spot. Nobody’s being handed anything.”

3 UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Arguably the most intriguing battle throughout camp has been for the middle linebacker gig left vacant with the departure of Khalil Bass to Ottawa.

Kyle Knox remains in the picture, as does Nick Temple and Canadian Sam Hurl. Getting Hurl into the defensive rotation would allow the Bombers to use another import elsewhere, but it’s clear – right now, at least – that the veteran is going to be getting more defensive snaps.

“It’s great to have the coaching staff believing in you and being on your side,” said Hurl. “Having that allows you to play faster, with more confidence and to be more vocal. It’s not that you rely on that, it just helps. It makes you want to have a bigger role and to help the team even that much more.

“As a teammate, as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber, I want the best players to be out there. I want us to be successful, so I want the best players on the field. As an individual, we also have our own goals as well and, of course, I’d like to get as many defensive snaps as possible.

“I want to contribute wherever I can. I know I can help on special teams, too.”

Sam Hurl (10)

5 BOMBERS TO WATCH

#3 Kevin Fogg, DB/PR: He was a rookie-of-the-year candidate for a good chunk of last season before getting nicked up and missing the West Semi-Final. Fogg returned to practice this week for the first time since offseason surgery and brings depth the secondary and boosts the return game.

#14 T.J. Thorpe, SB/KR: We know what some faithful bluebombers.com readers are thinking: enough already on this guy. Can’t help it… he was impressive in mini-camp and rookie camp and has been working with the No. 1 offence this week after returning from injury. If you’re not ‘Thorpe-d’ out, here’s more info on the man.

#39 Brandon Alexander, CB: Many were surprised earlier this week when the Bombers cut cornerback Terrence Frederick, who dressed for and started nine games a year ago. A big part of that decision is the play of the talented newcomers pushing for work in the secondary, Alexander among them. The story of his road to the Bombers can be found here.

#94 Jackson Jeffcoat, DE: He was one of many who stood out in Regina, finishing with three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. The Bombers defensive end starters seem set with Jamaal Westerman and Tristan Okpalaugo, but another effort from Jeffcoat like last week’s and it may be impossible to keep him off the roster.

#27 Robert Porter, DB: Led all Bombers last week with five tackles… and he wasn’t getting picked on as Terrence Frederick seemed to be. Porter is one of many fresh-faced import DBs still very much pushing for work.

INJURY REPORT

Not dressing because of injury for the Bombers are: LB Maurice Leggett, DB Abu Conteh, WR Addison Richards, DT Ian Marouf, WR Matt Coates, DB Darnell Walker Jr., SB Gerrard Sheppard.

NOTABLE

The Eskimos will be without QB Mike Reilly, SB Adarius Bowman, DE Odell Willis, DT Almondo Sewell, RB John White, SB Brandon Zylstra, DE Phillip Hunt, LB J.C. Sherritt and C Justin Sorensen, among others.

QUOTABLE

“Personally, and from an offensive standpoint, I know we want to attack and play this game like it’s a regular season game. Sometimes you go out in preseason games as a veteran and you kinda just coast and tempo it. But for myself, I’m playing it as a real game. I want to compete at a high level and really get some good reps in there, whether that’s trying to break tackles instead of going out of bounds… that’s the kind of style I want to play.” – Bombers running back Andrew Harris.