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July 3, 2019

48-Hour Primer | WPG at OTT

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #13 Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews is camped out in front of his locker in a corner of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers clubhouse that is surrounded by the receivers group.

He glances left for a moment, then right and forward just as Lucky Whitehead walks by at the exact moment Matthews is asked about his teammate’s elite speed.

Knowing Whitehead is eavesdropping, Matthews offers this: “Lucky’s fast, but he ain’t the fastest one, I can tell you that.”

The veteran wideout grins then, as does Whitehead. And then Matthews ventures off on a riff about potential and what lies ahead for the Bombers receiving corps – not just on the immediate horizon with Friday’s game in Ottawa, but beyond into the meat of the Canadian Football League season.

“Lucky’s got elite speed, no question,” Matthews continued. “But what I like about our group is we’ve also got guys who run great routes, guys with great hands, guys who are technical. We have guys who like to block and show their strength, their speed and their versatility on routes.

“There’s a plethora of things I’m excited to see as time goes on. As an offence, there’s a whole lot of room for us to grow. There’s so much stuff… we’re just trying to set things up and do things right and as we evolve throughout the season, we’re only going to get better, man. We’re 2-0 right now, but there’s no telling where we can go. We have a lot, but we really haven’t evolved yet.”

All of this makes for one of the intriguing subplots as the Bombers head to the nation’s capital for Friday’s matchup against the unbeaten REDBLACKS.

The Bombers have hardly spent the days since last week’s home opener win over the Edmonton Eskimos gloating about their 2-0 start. In fact, it’s been more of the opposite as they have broken down the video evidence of the Eskimo game and now focus on – wait for it – going 1-0 this week.

“We’re always looking to have better execution,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea after practice Wednesday. “The effort’s been there. We’ve been learning from our mistakes, but obviously, we’d really like to ramp up the execution and have a game that’s really clean in that regard.”

That execution thing – and all the discussion about the Bombers being 2-0 despite just scratching the surface of their potential – leads us back to Matthews.

The veteran receiver made his Bombers re-debut in last Thursday’s win after missing the opener. And, like a lot of his teammates, he saw some things he liked and some things he wants to fix. That’s only natural this early in the season.

But if potential doesn’t become reality then the narrative certainly changes in a hurry.

“What I like about our receiving corps in particular is we have a lot of different talent. Nobody is the same,” said Matthews. “I think that’s a great thing because now we can gameplan any different kind of way and be successful at it.

“Definitely I want less mistakes this week. Now, if I could make new mistakes and learn from that, that would be perfect. But you never want to make the same mistakes twice. That goes for all of us.”

The Bombers completed their final full practice today at IG Field and will fly to Ottawa Thursday for Friday’s game against the REDBLACKS. Here are some notes and quotes after Wednesday’s closed practice session…

WAIT AND SEE:

Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill did not practice on Tuesday, but according to head coach Mike O’Shea, was on the field Wednesday. Still, the boss would not yet confirm whether Bighill would be in the lineup.

“We’ll see,” said O’Shea. “He practised today and ran around out there, so as usual we’ll give him as much time as he needs and see how the roster shakes down (Thursday).”

BACK ON BOARD:

The Bombers added import RB John Santiago to the practice roster on Wednesday. Santiago, a University of North Dakota product, attended training camp before being released. Ironically, he rejoins the team after an injury to a former teammate at UND, Brady Oliveira, who injured his ankle in the home opener win over Edmonton.

“We liked him here at camp, we just couldn’t keep everybody and with drafting Brady and having Johnny Augustine, too,” said O’Shea. “It made the competition pretty tough going against the roster (with Canadian tailbacks) and not just other players in that battle. Once Brady went down it’s just bringing back a guy we really like and we thought had a good champ.”

MOVE ON:

Andrew Harris has been around long enough to know you need to flush the good performances just as quickly as the bad. And so, his work in last week’s win – which included a receiving touchdown, but also two uncharacteristic fumbles – was forgotten long ago.

“I’m already over that game,” said Harris. “It’s in the past and I’m looking forward to having a better game this week. I’ve learned from mistakes earlier in my career and in junior and in this business you have to forget quickly, whether it’s good or bad. Even having a great game, you can’t ride on that too long and drink your own juice too much. You’ve got to forget that and go back to the drawing board and keep working hard and get better every week.”