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July 9, 2019

“We have a locker room that’s tight”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #37 Brandon Alexander

Matt Nichols has carved out a reputation as a fiery leader and a tireless student of football. It turns out the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback is also big enough to laugh at himself, too.

There was Nichols near the end of practice on Tuesday sliding into a mass of defenders in a scene that was exact opposite of the play that sent him from last Friday’s win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

And as he hit the turf with a timely slide, his teammates stopped momentarily to applaud him.

“I feel like I’m always trying to keep it loose, always trying to get the guys laughing,” said Nichols after a rain-soaked practice, with the black turf pellets still stuck to his left leg. “So, when I took off on a run today I did a little slow-motion slide and everyone had a good laugh about it. It’s all you can do sometimes is laugh at yourself.

“I talked about it after the game. It was dumb on my part and I just let the guys know that we’re supposed to have fun out here, too.”

The Bombers are in a good place three weeks into the 2019 Canadian Football League season as the only unbeaten team at 3-0. They’ve been stifling defensively, having surrendered just one offensive touchdown in three weeks – and none in 34 consecutive possessions.

“The guys are doing a good job,” said defensive coordinator Richie Hall. “I think you’ve got to be lucky in some situations, too, but they’ve been playing pretty hard, pretty good. They’ve been minimizing opportunities when (offences) get down there (in the red zone).

“They’ve done a good job, but we’ve got a long ways to go.

And they’ve shown an explosiveness offensively that is another dimension to an attack that was already the most balanced – and highest scoring – in the CFL.

“It’s just being a team that with our system we can handle anything that is thrown at us defensively,” said Nichols. “So, the ball ends up in the hands of wherever the defence dictates. We’re a team that doesn’t really lock in on one person, which I think makes it difficult to guard us. You have to have a plan for everyone, because we do have some talented players across the board.

“The main thing here is we have a locker room that’s tight that really cares about each other. We have a lot of team-first guys that understand that, like in the last couple of weeks Lucky (Whitehead) went for 150 (yards receiving) and Nic (Demski) went for over 100… it’s just something where they take pride watching their teammates have success. Even if a guy doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, they’re doing a lot to help those other guys get open and doing a lot in the run game blocking to make sure that when Andrew (Harris) breaks free they’re doing a lot blocking downfield.

“Everyone takes pride in doing whatever it takes to score points. And when your number is called, awesome, you’re the one making the play. But otherwise, all of us are just super pumped to see our teammates perform well.

“Having that mindset of really caring for each other,” added Nichols, “really takes away from all those feelings of ‘What about me?’ I don’t think we have any of that in our locker room.”


INJURY UPDATE:

Neither LB Adam Bighill or WR Chris Matthews practised on Tuesday. Matthews, who injured his hand in the win over Ottawa, will miss at least one game, while Bighill didn’t dress last week. Anthony Gaitor, meanwhile, was back at his post with the starting defence.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea reiterated that Bighill would not need to practice at least once in order to suit up for Friday’s home date with the Toronto Argonauts.

“I would never say that,” O’Shea said. “I’ve said all along – and it’s different for each guy, for sure – that I don’t think Adam Bighill needs a practice to be able to play and execute his assignment.

“Now, as things go players may want to practise before they get out there. That’s their input on it, too, and if that’s what the decision is then I’m fine with that.”

HOT STOVE:

Richie Hall, the Bombers defensive coordinator, was asked Tuesday for his take on defensive tackle Steven Richardson – nicknamed ‘Stove’ during his days at the University of Minnesota.

“Stove… he’s a force,” he began. “You look at him and Drake (Nevis) and they’ve got a very similar body size. Both of them are loads inside. He’s got a low centre of gravity and leverage and power. I think he’s something pretty special. Those guys are a load. They get that vertical push and they’re great to coach and great to be around. They just play hard, physical football.”

“It does pose problems (for offences),” added O’Shea. “Both he and Drake are of different stature and Jake (Thomas) is a little lighter, but he’s strong, strong, strong and gets a lot of push, too, for being a guy in a different weight category than those guys.”