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June 7, 2019

Upon Further Review | WPG 35, SSK 29

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols looks for a receiver during first half CFL pre-season action against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, June 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

Canadian Football League training camps and preseason games combine to make an interesting and unique animal.

Consider this, from a player’s perspective: the goal over the few weeks of camp and the two preseason games is to do something to stand out as an individual to make the team. And if and when that goal is accomplished, then the goal changes to do something as an individual to help the team win.

That’s a significant and not subtle difference in approach, but it does essentially describe what unfolds in the days leading up to the day the roster is picked. And that day is now upon us, with all CFL teams having to make their roster cuts by 9 p.m. Saturday night.

So it’s with that in mind, we look back at Thursday’s 35-29 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the final preseason game for both squads in our weekly collection of post-game notes and quotes we call ‘UPON FURTHER REVIEW’

THE BOMBER COACHES AND FOOTBALL MANAGEMENT TYPES have some tough decisions to make over the next few hours, especially in the wake of Thursday’s game in which a number of players helped themselves.

Head coach Mike O’Shea said post-game all players were to meet Friday afternoon to go over the film, before the staff would gather later to begin the process of determining who stays and who heads home.

Part of that process became official on Friday when the team released six players: import offensive linemen Delroy Baker and Israel Helms, defensive backs Elijah Battle and Malik Boynton, import receiver Tim Wilson and Canadian defensive back/linebacker Jacob Firlotte.

All teams have to get down to a 45-man roster that will include 21 Canadians, 20 Americans, three quarterbacks and one global player. One player can be put on a reserved list, and as well, teams can carry a 12-man practice roster. The injured lists will be announced the day before the opener.

IT’S NOT WISE TO MAKE ANY ASSUMPTIONS HERE… but clearly Lucky Whitehead is among those who helped himself in training camp and in the two preseason games. In fact, what he did in Thursday’s win in Regina is force himself into the discussion as potential starter in the receiving corps and not be seen primarily as the main kick-return candidate.

Whitehead’s work in the open field after catching an 11-yard pass from Matt Nichols and then turning it into an 86-yard TD – including a breathtaking 75 YAC – was spectacular. And the speed element he could bring to a receiving corps that should include Darvin Adams, Chris Matthews, Drew Wolitarsky and Nic Demski could have Bomber fans sliding to the edge of their seats in anticipation whenever he is on the field.

There’s a quiet confidence to Whitehead that falls along the old Muhammad Ali quote of ‘It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.’ As evidence, here’s Whitehead post-game when asked about the advantages the Canadian game can offer a receiver of his skillset:

“For me it’s definitely an advantage, especially with the Waggle. Everything is slowing down for me. I’m understanding more, I’ve been in the playbook so now I’m playing faster. My goal is to let every DB know it’s a different type of speed that I’m about to bring at you. And every time I go on the field I want them to feel that.”

ANOTHER RECEIVER WHO BLURRED THE RECEIVER PICTURE WAS Kenny Walker, who hauled in a picturesque 44-yard throw from Bryan Bennett into a strong wind and then raced another 42 yards for an 86-yard score.

Walker has had a solid camp and showcased the speed on that throw that had earned him a spot on UCLA’s track team during his college days. He was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent last year and was cut by the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football League before joining the Bombers.

“It felt really good,” said Walker Thursday inside a jammed Bombers dressing room at Mosaic Stadium. “The main thing was to take my coaching to the field and let my speed take care of everything else.

“We were pretty much planning that play all week. We knew they were a press-man (coverage) across the board, so as soon as we got the look, we got the right call and just executed it. (Bennett) got it out there. I thought he was going to overthrow me, so I just digged for a good three more steps and just tracked the ball.”

THE BOMBERS HAVE TO BE ECSTATIC with their QB depth. There is Nichols, the clear-cut No. 1. There is Chris Streveler, who offers such a unique skillset as a No. 2 and is still soaking up so much about the game. And then there is Bennett – who has had a solid camp – and newcomer Sean McGuire, who helped engineer the game-winning drive that he capped with a QB sneak on Thursday.

“I’ll always say this, but you’re going to look back at the film and there are always things you’re going to look at and say, ‘I should have gone this place with the ball,’” said Bennett. “But it’s hard to be perfect. Luckily I struck at the end there when we needed to and made them pay when they gave us that opportunity.

“It always feels good to see the results when you put in the work. I think I had a good offseason.”

THE PLAY OF THE O-LINE was also encouraging Thursday night. The Bombers rotated a number of big bodies into the fray and were able to crank out 428 yards of net offence, including 360 through the air.

For what it’s worth – and with both Jermarcus Hardrick and Pat Neufeld not making the trip – the team opened with Stanley Bryant at left tackle, Geoff Gray at left guard, Michael Couture at centre, Cody Speller at right guard and Jamar McGloster at right tackle.

And when it was suggested to O’Shea after the game that it’s ‘hard to tell’ about O-line play watching from the press box, the Bombers coach chuckled and added:

“It’s hard to tell watching from where I’m from. I thought we did OK. It helps if the quarterbacks are processing on time and then the ball gets out of their hand. As always, until we see closely the line play it’s tough (to evaluate). But I think they did good job. They gave up one sack, so that’s a good job.”