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June 5, 2019

Game Preview | Pre-season WPG at SSK

THE 4-1-1

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Thursday, Mosaic Stadium, Regina
Streaks: (Preseason) Winnipeg 1W: Saskatchewan: 1L
Recent history: The Bombers are coming off a 20-3 win over the Edmonton Eskimos in their first preseason game last Friday. Saskatchewan was thumped 37-1 in Calgary. Both the Bombers and Riders opted to rest a bunch of their starters with neither starting QB – Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols and Zach Collaros of Saskatchewan – taking any snaps. The Bombers open their regular season June 15th in Vancouver; the Riders are in Hamilton for their opener on June 13th.
Radio: CJOB
TV: None

3 STORYLINES

1. GET IN, GET REPS, GET OUT HEALTHY

There’s a sense of invincibility among all athletes and football players are no different. They train to sculpt their bodies and feel almost indestructible whenever they put on the helmet and shoulder pads.

But everyone is vulnerable to being rolled up on, to getting a blindsided hit, or planting wrong and then suddenly going down like a skyscraper under demolition.

And so while every coach and every player wants to ensure their vets get their preseason snaps in order to be ready to go when the curtain rises on the 2019 Canadian Football League season next week, they are also playing a bit of roulette here. Many teams have changed their approach to camp and the preseason, not just to keep their injured list free of names for the opener, but to keep bodies from breaking down by season’s end when the playoffs start.

The Bombers do plan to bring all four quarterbacks and start Matt Nichols against the Riders and running back Andrew Harris will also get his turn in the offence. But the offensive line will be without Jermarcus Hardrick and Pat Neufeld, and receivers Chris Matthews and Nic Demski will not be travelling. On defence, staying home will be linebackers Adam Bighill and Anthony Gaitor, defensive linemen Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat and Drake Nevis as well as defensive backs Winston Rose, Chris Humes, Brandon Alexander and Marcus Sayles.

Also not travelling are kicker Justin Medlock, long-snapper Chad Rempel and special teams ace Mike Miller.

2. D-DAY – DECISION DAY – LOOMS

All CFL teams must cut down their training camp roster by 9 p.m. this Saturday. The clubs will also declare their practice rosters in the immediate days after that as players either agree to join that squad or wish to move on instead.

That means Thursday’s game against the Riders is the final opportunity for those on the bubble to shine, and for those trying to land a starter’s gig to lock it down.

Most in Bomberland have said this camp has been as talented as they’ve seen in years, so culling the herd won’t be easy for head coach Mike O’Shea and his staff.

But it is the reality here and one fumble, missed tackle, dropped pass or assignment mistake could mean a plane ticket home or a move to the practice roster. That’s cold, but it’s the truth in pro football.

We highlighted some of the starter jobs still up for grabs in our 48-Hour Primer.

3. ATTENTION TO DETAIL

The season opener June 15th in Vancouver comes quickly after this, especially with the club travelling home after the game in Regina and then giving the players a couple of days off while the coaches trim the roster. That means this meeting with the Riders is the last chance to see the troops in action before the real bullets start whizzing by. This game, then, is as much about trust as it is about performance.

Players have to reinforce with their teammates and coaching staff that they will be in the right place at the right time to make a play, because while a bust this week can be costly, in just over a week it can cost a game.

5 BOMBERS TO WATCH

#19 Kyrie Wilson, LB: He’s the only projected starting linebacker scheduled to make the trip, with both Adam Bighill and Dime/SAM Anthony Gaitor both staying home. He’s all but wrapped up the weak-side linebacker spot, but a good game Thursday should confirm it.

#89 Kenny Lawler, WR: Lawler has had an excellent camp and led the club in receiving last week, but also didn’t come down with a couple of contested balls. He’s trying to hold off Rasheed Bailey (88), Kenny Walker (86), Matt Hazel (84) and Tim Wilson (83) among the new faces trying to grab the one open spot in the receiving corps.

#59 Michael Couture, C: He and Cody Speller have been in a scrap to see who replaces Matthias Goossen at centre. Couture is getting a lot of the reps with the starters lately, but so has Speller at both right and left guard.

#7 Joe Este, DB: Chandler Fenner and Winston Rose would seem to be the two starting cornerbacks for Week 1, but Rose has missed a chunk of camp lately with an injury. Este played well in last week’s win over Edmonton and another solid performance could earn him a roster spot.

#68 Geoff Gray, G: The Bombers are giving him every opportunity to earn a starting job along the O-line and he’s worked at both right and left guard. He’s athletic and he’s big, but is still knocking off some rust.

USELESS STAT DEPT

The Bombers split their dress rehearsals a year ago and haven’t gone 2-0 in exhibition games since 1995, although they did go 1-0-1 in 2000.