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November 8, 2018

Need to Know | November 7

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Winnipeg Blue Bombers PracticeNovember 7, 2018.

The crowd of media was bigger, and so too are the stakes now.

And so when Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris stepped in front of a row of cameras and reporters on Wednesday – the first day of practice in advance of Sunday’s Canadian Football League West Division Semi-Final against the Saskatchewan Roughriders – there were a lot of topics to hit on from a variety of different voices.

There was the matchup with the Riders, a classic showdown between long-standing Prairie rivals.

There was Harris being named to the West Division All-Star team again, along with six of his teammates – offensive linemen Stanley Bryant, Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh, wide receiver Darvin Adams, linebacker Adam Bighill and safety Taylor Loffler.

There was the weather, what with the snow falling and the mercury dropping.

But it was near the end of his long give-and-take with the media when the veteran running back hit on a subject which might be the most important big-picture take in advance of Sunday’s tilt: The window of opportunity might not be open for that much longer for this squad, not just because the core which has been together for three years is getting older, but also due to the uncertainty this offseason will bring with an expiring collective bargaining agreement.

“The whole league is going to be different,” said Harris. “There are some crazy number like 70 percent of the league is going to be free agents or something like that. I don’t even know if that’s true. But for us, I know there are a lot of free agents out there, everyone’s going to be going to different places, so absolutely, any team that’s in the playoffs right now that cares about their team is thinking the same way, that winning with that team is going to be special because all the teams are going to be completely different next year and a lot of guys know that.

“For us, for myself especially, I love this team, I love playing with this team and the brotherhood that we have. Winning this year would mean everything to me. That’s absolutely the goal.”

Now, we must point out that last take came after Harris repeated the Bombers mantra of going ‘1-0 this week’ and insisting they are not looking past the Riders to Calgary in the West Final or to the Grey Cup. These guys have been adhering to a strict code of respecting the process, as dull as that might sound now with more eyeballs on them in a playoff push.

But there is also a sense of urgency with this bunch, a group that talks often about the ‘room’ and their camaraderie. That’s why this Sunday, and what might come after that, is so important to them.

“We’ve got to see it through,” said Harris. “There can’t be any lulls, there can’t be mental breakdowns, there can’t be any of that stuff. We’ve really got to see this through and go 1-0… We’ve been talking about it and preaching on this and how tight we are and how we’ve come together this season, but coming through and seeing it through is one thing we’ve got to get done this week.”

The Bombers roster features 13 players 30 years of age or older, and that group are starters and West All-Stars like Harris, Bighill and Bryant, along with regulars Matt Nichols, Weston Dressler, Anthony Gaitor, Chris Randle, Kenbrell Thompkins, Maurice Leggett and Justin Medlock, as well as Jeff Hecht, Frederick Plesius and Chad Rempel.

Each of those men will all spend this week focusing on the little details they need to get done individually and collectively to get help chase a win on Sunday. But they might also take a moment to sneak a peek around the locker room before the playoffs and wonder how much different this squad will look next spring.

All of that, coupled with the relative health of this team heading into the playoffs – especially compared to this time last year when Adams, Leggett and Jamaal Westerman were all out, with Nichols operating with a bum hand and calf and Dressler playing with a broken hand – has only cranked up the expectation level in the Bomber room.

“This year I feel like we’re right where we want to be,” said Nichols. “It’s all fun to talk about, but you’ve got to go out and perform and understand that (Saskatchewan) is a very good football team… they have 12 wins this year and you don’t get that by accident. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but I think this team is up to the challenge.”

Seven Bombers Named to West All-Star Team

The practice Wednesday was the Bombers first session in advance of Sunday’s Semi-Final. And in the next few days, there will undoubtedly be a lot of chatter about the club’s need to take another step in its evolution. After all, this is the club’s third straight playoff appearance after climbing out of the abyss that was 2012-15. But it’s also seeking its first playoff victory since the 2011 East Final.

“I don’t know that winning a playoff game will amount to any amount of success,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “There’s only one goal that all nine teams have when they start the season. And when you don’t reach that goal it’s hard to look at things as being successful. So, when you talk about winning a playoff game, that won’t be enough.”


BOMBER REPORT | November 7, 2018

SICK BAY UPDATE:

The Bombers practised Wednesday minus LB Jovan Santos-Knox and with DB Marcus Sayles dressed, but getting limited work.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea would not rule out Santos-Knox, but did add that Sayles should be good to go. Chris Humes took more reps in the secondary, while Ian Wild and Kyrie Wilson are available if Santos-Knox can’t go.

That relatively positive health report is a far cry from last year, as touched on above, and has given the Bombers a different sense of confidence this season.

“We’re a lot more healthy, that’s one thing,” said Harris when asked to compare this year’s playoff vibe to 2017. “I think the last five weeks, how we’ve come together, how we’ve morphed into the team we are right now is a lot different than last year. I mean, last year I had all the confidence in the world that we had a good opportunity to beat Edmonton and we came up short. There’s just a different feel. This team has been pretty much together for three years, the nucleus of guys, there’s a certain understanding and hunger that’s there. We’re just excited to have another opportunity to be in the playoffs and the opportunity to go out to Regina to play another week.”

Watch: Bomber Blitz with Bob Irving

Added Nichols, when the healthy subject was broached with him:

“Way better. Obviously, myself I feel a lot better. I was dealing with a couple of things last year. This is as good as I’ve felt at the end of a season since probably 2012 when I was only playing spot duty here and there. I feel great. As a team, you look across the board and how healthy we are… it’s always something we talk about and it’s kind of key to winning championships up here. It’s the teams that gets hot at the right time, which I feel we are playing some good football, and the teams which stay healthy, which we’ve done a good job – Coach O’Shea and our training staff have done a good job of making sure guys are constantly in there working out and taking care of themselves.

“Obviously there are a lot of unavoidable things out there on the field, but this group has had good leadership and good position group leadership to make sure that everyone’s accountable and working out and making sure we can make it through 24 weeks or whatever the season ends up being.”

OH, THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS… PERFECT?:

One more from Harris… he might not have all of his teammates on board with him, but he was all smiles after a frigid practice Wednesday when asked about the weather conditions.

“It was gorgeous out there,” began the Winnipeg product. “A nice beautiful day. The sun was trying to come out, the snowflakes were big and it wasn’t too windy. It was fun. It’s good to play in this kind of weather. This is what the CFL is all about: playoffs, cold weather, a little bit of snow. We’re excited for it.”

SALUTING ‘GOOSE’:

Bombers centre Matthias Goossen, named to the West Division All-Star team on Wednesday, was honoured earlier this week with the Ed Kotowich Good Guy Award, presented annually to the Bombers player for ‘football ability, team camaraderie and extraordinary effort off the field.’

Goossen lives in Winnipeg year-round and is always volunteering his time.

“Playing football, it gives you the opportunity to be out in the community and be out talking to kids about very important issues,” he said. “I’d say there are so many players that could be nominated for that, so many guys who do things back where they’re from. I’m fortunate enough to live in Winnipeg year-round where I get opportunities like that. There are so many guys who do tons of things, guys like John Rush and Thomas Miles being a big part of that. A lot of guys do things that go unrecognized, so it’s nice to get the award, but there are so many that could receive that award as well.”