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May 14, 2019

Positional Preview | Defensive Line

Jackson Jeffcoat (94) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the BC Lions at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, BC., on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers open training camp on May 19th. This is the fourth installment of our annual positional-preview series leading up to the first day of camp…

DEFENSIVE LINE

Memo to: Canadian Football League quarterbacks outside of Winnipeg.

Subject: Welcome to your new nightmare, gentlemen.

 

CFL free agency regularly opens with a cannonball splash, as teams across this grand ol’ loop quickly jump into the talent pool by signing marquee names to big-money deals.

The spending spree GMs went on this past February was unprecedented, as the likes of Mike Reilly, Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, Derel Walker, William Powell, SirVincent Rogers, Larry Dean, Taylor Loffler, Sukh Chungh, DaVaris Daniels, Ja’Gared Davis, Micah Johnson, Aaron Grymes, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Jonathon Jennings and Shawn Lemon – among others – all changed teams.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers got into that act, too, inking all-star defensive end Willie Jefferson not long after the market opened.

The Bombers had already been adept at getting after enemy quarterbacks – they were one of five teams tied for the league lead in sacks with 45 – as part of a defence that tied for the league lead in turnovers forced (49), tied for second in interceptions (20) and led the CFL in points off turnovers (151).

Yet landing Jefferson could see a boost to virtually all defensive statistical categories. The Bombers defence already sports the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in middle linebacker Adam Bighill, but it could be argued Jefferson is the CFL’s Most Difficult to Gameplan Against Defensive Player – if the league offered up such a long-winded award.

And the Bombers know that as well as anyone, based on Jefferson’s previous five years in the league with Edmonton and Saskatchewan (see: Banjo Bowl, 2018). At 6-6, 245 this 28-year-old converted receiver has been called a freakish athlete with NFL skills, but now committed to the CFL after stints with Houston, Buffalo and Washington.

To sum up, Jefferson – a CFL All-Star the last two years and the Riders Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Playear last year – is the kind of talent that has QBs waking up in cold sweats the night before games, then panicking inside the pocket and throwing passes either into the dirt or to guys the wrong-coloured jerseys.

Line him up at one end spot with Jackson Jeffcoat (12 sacks in 28 games) and Craig Roh (28 sacks in 62 games, including a team-best eight last season) and the Bombers have some formidable talent at the end spots.

The interior has proven to be stout, too, with Drake Nevis, Canadian Jake Thomas and Brandin Bryant lining up at defensive tackle. Bolstering that group is former B.C. Lion Maxx Forde, who has 22 games played to his name after being drafted in 2015.

The club also used three of its nine selections in the CFL Draft earlier this month on Canadian D-linemen, selecting Tennessee end Jonathan Kongbo (first round, 5th overall), UBC tackle Connor Griffiths (third round, 25th overall) and Manitoba end/tackle Tariq LaChance (sixth round, 52nd overall). That’s significant, because the Bombers are examining using a Canadian along the defensive front in their search for a seventh homegrown starter. That decision will be linked to what happens along the offensive line, where a possible return to three import starters there could impact the D-line.

Again, that’s no small thing. But given the talent the team has stockpiled the roster decisions the Bombers make about their defensive line will certainly be made from a position of strength.


A LOOK AT THE DEFENSIVE LINE

The Returnees:

Ends: Jackson Jeffcoat, Craig Roh
Tackles: Drake Nevis, Brandin Bryant, Jake Thomas*
Free agent additions: DE Willie Jefferson, DT Maxx Forde*
CFL newcomers: Patrick Choudja, Alex McCalister, Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Evan Perrizo
2019 CFL Draft picks: Jonathan Kongbo (1st round, 5th overall), Connor Griffiths (3rd round, 25th overall), DL Tariq Lachance (6th round, 52nd overall)
Departed: Tristan Okpalaugo (free agent), Trent Corney* (retired), Gerald Rivers (free agent).

*Indicates Canadian

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Willie Jefferson

Game changer. Difference maker. Ferocious pass rusher. Gifted athlete. He makes the Bombers front seven as good as any in the CFL.

X FACTOR

Jonathan Kongbo

He’s coming off an ACL injury, so when he is actually able to participate – let alone potentially contribute – is uncertain. But the Bombers believe Kongbo was the best prospect of the ’19 draft class and if he can morph into something the decision to use a Canadian up front becomes more realistic.

NOTABLE NUMBER | 45

Interesting breakdown on where the Bombers got their QB sacks from in 2018 that speaks of some of the defensive wrinkles used – 27 came from the D-line, with the other 18 coming from linebackers or defensive backs. Roh led the club with eight.