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June 16, 2017

Game Recap | EDM 38, WPG 38

Here’s the good news for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as their Canadian Football League preseason wrapped up Thursday night at Investors Group Field:

They finish their exhibition campaign unbeaten.

And the bad news?

They didn’t win any of their two dress rehearsals, either.

The Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos played to a 38-38 tie in front of 24,934 home fans in south Winnipeg Thursday and, coupled with last Saturday’s 25-25 draw with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, finish with an 0-0-2 mark.

“I’ve never experienced that before… I didn’t even know you could end in a tie in the preseason,” said Bombers quarterback Dom Davis. “Two times? We really don’t celebrate ties around here, but there’s a lot of good things we can look at.”

With that in mind, here’s some of the good and the bad that popped out for the Bombers from one man’s perch…

WHAT WE LIKED

Matt Nichols had one goal for the Bombers offence heading into the preseason finale: to get the engine purring. The Bombers fell behind 17-3 even after the veteran QB was putting up solid numbers and then rallied for a couple of scores before the intermission.

Nichols’ final stat line was juicy as he finished 19 of 24 for 227 yards with a seven-yard strike to Clarence Denmark and a picturesque 43-yard bomb to Darvin Adams.

The Bombers offensive workhorse, Andrew Harris, was back pushing, pulling and dragging the attack when needed. He was busy early, with four touches on the Bombers’ first possession totalling 56 yards – including a 33-yard reception – before stepping out. All totalled, he finished with five rushes for 41 yards and four catches for 49 yards. That’s nine touches for 90 yards and any tailback on the planet will take that kind of average when the real games start. Expect, then, much the same for the Winnipeg product in the second year of Paul LaPolice’s offence.

Some of the questions about Dom Davis as a potential No. 2 QB to Nichols – he did not throw a single pass last year – have been answered through a couple quarters of work in the preseason. Davis was steady in last week’s tie with Saskatchewan and upped his effort against Edmonton with some stellar work in his time behind centre. Nichols lined up behind the club’s starting O-line in Stanley Bryant, Travis Bond, Matthias Goossen, Sukh Chungh and Jermarcus Hardrick whereas Davis had Bond at centre, Manase Foketi at left tackle, Patrick Neufeld at left guard, Michael Couture at right guard and Trevan Brown at right tackle. He was dropped for losses a couple of times, but capped his night’s work by completing passes of 36 yards and 60 yards to Timothy Flanders and L’Damian Washington on successive plays before rushing for a seven-yard score.

His totals: six of eight for 101 yards and two rushes for 11 yards and one score.

Not to be out-done, Dan LeFevour also followed up his work in Regina with another great night. He was at the controls of two scoring drives, running for a seven-yard score himself and then watching as Timothy Flanders skidaddled 46 yards for another TD.

His totals: three of three passing for 27 yards, two carries for five yards and a TD.

“I thought all three quarterbacks moved the ball well and played extremely well,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “They proved they can move the offence and there should be roles for all three of them. They were good, they were really good.”

Nichols, Davis and LeFevour combined to go 28 of 35 for 355 yards, for two TDs and no picks. That’s a QB rating of 127.97 = pretty dang good.

Speaking of Flanders, he served up some gaudy numbers, just like Harris, as he finished with four carries for 62 yards and three receptions for 37 yards.

Other individual efforts that jumped out: cornerback Brandon Alexander offered more glimpses as to why the club moved on from veteran Terrence Frederick earlier this week, especially early while working with the starting defence… Canadian defensive linemen Trent Corney and Jake Thomas registered the two Bomber sacks on the night… Defensive back Brian Walker had three tackles and an interception.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

One of the priorities for the Bombers’ defensive dozen this season is to cut down on the number of ‘explosion’ plays – big gains either through the air or along the ground. And this, clearly, is an area that is going to need more attention.

Winnipeg opened with most of their starters on defence and then struggled as James Franklin and the Eskimos ‘B’ team cranked out 237 yards net offence in the first half, including five ‘explosion’ plays – runs of 17 and 49 yards (a TD, by LaDarius Perkins) – and pass completions of 21, 23 and 29 yards.

The Bombers had six penalties for 83 yards in the first half – four of them before the game was even three minutes old. Those numbers didn’t get any prettier as the night progressed as the home side finished with a whopping 205 yards on 16 infractions. Yes, it is only the preseason, but that’s a number no coach likes whether it is in game or at a Monday practice.

There has been so much promise for T.J. Thorpe, the speedy slotback/returner who had been compared to Arland Bruce III by LaPolice earlier in the week. But after catching one pass on the opening possession, Thorpe pulled up lame and exited with what the club called a lower-body injury. It’s been that kind of camp for Thorpe, who flashed in mini and rookie camps before suffering an injury early in main camp and just returned to practice this week. The team loves his skillset but, as coaches often say, durability is also an ability.

The Bombers drafted Félix Ménard-Brière because he was a superb directional punter at the Université de Montréal and named a U Sports All-Canadian. He also went 17 for 25 in the field goal department last year (68 per cent), but finished the preseason just 1-4. He’s got a live leg and another year of eligibility left, but will be blocked from moving up the Bombers depth chart in the future by the cyborg kicker in Justin Medlock.

The inability to finish will drive the coaching staff bonkers. The Bombers gave up a last-second field goal in the tie to Saskatchewan last week and held a 38-23 lead into the final minute before giving up a TD, an onside kick, another TD with nine seconds left and then a two-point convert. Winnipeg was nailed for five defensive penalties in the final 1:48 of the game – three pass interference infractions, a roughing the passer and an offside. Those five gaffes totalled 64 yards and breathed life into the Edmonton rally.