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June 24, 2019

Battle in the trenches

Marty Costello has seen the video evidence, and admittedly, it was a gruesome three-hour horror show not suitable for all audiences.

Costello, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive line coach, spent last Friday scouting this week’s opponent – the Edmonton Eskimos – and specifically their defensive line in their win over Mike Reilly and the B.C. Lions.

And what he saw was an Eskimos front seven that fed on the Lions like they were slathered in barbecue sauce and absolutely mauled the B.C. quarterback en route to a seven-sack night.

“I tell you what, we had a long day as a staff on Saturday,” said Costello following practice. “I had to come in early, and of course, I didn’t get much sleep because I watched the game Friday night.

“(The Eskimos D-line) played really, really well. They’re a good unit, they’re well coached, they play extremely hard and we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to work out between now and Thursday night.”

All of this feeds into an easy narrative as the Bombers prepare for their home opener. Indeed, if the Bombers and the new faces along the interior of their offensive line were a story heading into the season opener in Vancouver, they will again be one of the juicy subplots in a couple of days.

Still, let’s not mistake respect for fear here.

“We pride ourselves in being up to the challenge every week, no matter who we’re against,” said quarterback Matt Nichols. “We respect everyone we’re playing against and they’re a good football team. We believe we’re a good football team. It’s going to be a fun one.”

The Bombers offence managed to crank out 348 yards net offence in their win over the Lions, with a tidy balance of 184 yards passing – including three touchdown passes by Nichols – and 170 along the ground, led by a 148-yard effort by Andrew Harris.

“We focus on a couple of things every week and that’s getting 33 (Harris) going and getting some positive yards and keeping 15 (Nichols) upright,” added Costello. “No matter who we’re going against, that’s what we concern ourselves with.

“We watched them, we analyzed them, we know what they’re going to do. But at the end of the day when the ball is snapped it’s all about us and how we take care of our business.”

That was a common take from all the characters at the centre of this storyline.

Here, for example, are tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick when asked about the work of guards Cody Speller and Geoff Gray and centre Michael Couture – all of whom suited up last week with less than a handful of starts between them.

“They played good,” said Bryant. “There are always small things you can work on, but as far as knowing our mentality and the physicality we bring to the table those guys stepped in and did well,” he said. “Mike, Cody, Geoff… they went in and played hard, knocked some guys around and got their feet wet and that’s all you can ask from them.”

“We’ve still got some things to fix, but they played hard, they played physical, they played together, they played as a brotherhood,” added Hardrick. “I knew they were going to do that. They were with us last year and know the standard. We saw it all camp – they’ll mix it up any time they get the chance.

“But now we have a real test early this week with a great D-line and a great team.”

Hardrick grinned here. He’s been around too long to serve up anything that might be torqued and spun and find its way to the Eskimos via social media.

Still, the big man likes a good trench battle as much as the next guy.“We know they’re going to come in here on their high horse, which they should, after getting seven sacks,” said Hardrick. “We’ll be ready to pay that much more attention to detail because our ultimate goal is to keep Matt Nichols up. That’s why I’m here, to protect Matt Nichols.

“It’ll be a heavyweight fight. But I got a whole lot of people in blue behind me and a whole lot of guys in the locker room with me… I’m excited to throw my punches and know that if I miss I’ve got somebody who is going to throw one behind me.

“We have to prove it on Thursday and if we can do that it will be a big step in helping us go where we want to go.”