Adam Bighill has carved out a hall-of-fame-worthy career of crushing ball carriers, of chasing down quarterbacks and knocking down passes.
And so when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker – and the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2018 – is forced to sit, well, it can be a real test of a man’s resiliency and his patience.
“Oh man… I don’t have patience. I live in one-week cycles,” said Bighill Tuesday after his second full day of practice this week – his first work since the days leading up to the home opener at the end of June.
“It’s been tough to watch these last three games and I’m just so happy my guys went out there and held it down and did a great job. It’s tough watching, but watching what they did made me proud and I’m just excited to be back and be a part of it.”
Bighill’s potential return to the Bombers lineup for this Friday’s matchup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won’t be confirmed until later in the week. He’s been a game-time decision over the last couple of weeks, and hasn’t seen any action since the club’s win over the Edmonton Eskimos on June 27th.
Bighill said Tuesday the return to practice is part of the recovery process and the protocols set up by Bombers Head Athletic Therapist Al Couture before he gets the green light to suit up on game day.
Bighill has been itching to return, but the club is also being careful with their defensive leader. The 2019 season hasn’t even hit the one-third mark yet, after all, and they want Bighill to be healthy for a late-season push and not dealing with a nagging injury into the fall.
All of that makes logical sense, of course, but the waiting can be as painful as an injury.
“The season is long, but it’s hard to realize that when the importance of every week is right in front of your face,” said Bighlll. “Teammates have reminded me, coaches have reminded me that it’s a long season, we need you, and be smart. The last bit and even through now is about being smart and that’s still part of the thought process.”
It’s not like Bighill has been out of sight, out of mind during his absence from the starting lineup. He had been on the field doing mental reps at practice before this week and has also been present on the sideline on game day.
“On game day I try and act like I’m playing,” he said. “My biggest thing in the last couple of weeks when I wasn’t playing but I was able to be here on the sideline is to prepare and help my guys as much as I can and be an extra set of eyes, go over the IPad, go over the film stuff with them and just give them as much information as I can to make their job easier. I just tried to support in whatever way I can.”
The Bombers have got some solid pay from Kyrie Wilson at Bighill’s spot in the interim, as he slid into the middle from his weak-side position. At the same time Jesse Briggs and Thomas Miles have performed admirably in their first starts as Bombers in Wilson’s spot.
Miles, the proud product of Churchill High School and the University of Manitoba, was thrilled to help contribute in last Friday’s win over Ottawa.
“It was a blast,” said Miles, whose family has had Bombers season tickets for 45-plus years. “We’ve got an exciting defence and I had a lot of fun being a part of it. It was really cool, not just for me, but for my friends and family to see me out there playing defence.
“Injuries are part of football and so if you’re the next man in line, you’d better be ready because no one is taking it easy on you.”
Miles said he has seen an evolution in the Bombers defence since joining the club in 2017 after three years with the Toronto Argonauts. It’s that, plus his understanding of his role that has made the last 2 ½ years with his hometown squad so memorable.
“There comes a point where you’ve got to buy in with what the team is doing,” he said. “Part of that is trusting what the coaches are doing and the other players are doing and for me that means not worrying about how I factor in, but rather how I can be most useful to everyone else.
“We’ve got something special here, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
TIP OF THE CHAPEAU:
Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols was honoured Tuesday as one of the CFL’s Top Performers for his work in last week’s 31-1 win over Ottawa. He finished 25 of 29 for 295 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and in the process, established a new Bombers record for consecutive pass completions at 19, breaking Dieter Brock’s old mark of 16 set back in 1981.
“Matt’s an intelligent quarterback, good arm strength, processes very well,” began Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice after practice Tuesday. “Every year we talk about the quarterback’s got to make great decisions as much as he can, and that’s how you win football games. He’s certainly done that this year for us, not only throwing the ball to the right spots, but just putting everybody in the right places and understanding what we’re doing systematically.
“He’s great. I know we can put something in and he’ll process it and if it’s not there, go to the next read. We’re pretty spoiled here.”
NEW BLUE BLOOD:
The Bombers added another body on Tuesday with the signing of import receiver/returner Janarion Grant to the practice roster.
Grant (5-10, 173, Rutgers) recorded 115 kickoff returns for 2,857 yards, including five kick-return touchdowns to go along with 52 punt returns for 588 yards and three punt-return touchdowns during his five years with the Scarlet Knights. Grant signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens in May of last year, but was released in September.
SB Nic Demski, RT Jermarcus Hardrick, S Jeff Hecht were all back practising on Tuesday.
MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY:
The CFL held a national media conference call in advance of Friday’s showdown between the two divisional leaders, featuring Mike O’Shea and Matt Nichols of the Bombers and Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli and head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
O’Shea and Steinauer were teammates in both Hamilton and Toronto, and also coached together with the Argos. And based on their give and take during the conference call, there is also a ton of respect between the two.
“Osh doesn’t like these type of things, it would actually be a 20-minute talk to be honest with you but I’ll try to sum it up here quickly,” began Steinauer. “With Osh, the one thing that doesn’t show up on the game film, on a three-hour Saturday, is the commitment to his preparation in the off-season; the time spent in the training room, not necessarily when he’s injured, but just to be the best he can be to prolong his career.
“It’s easy to see the second all-time leading tackler in the league. It’s easy to point out the special teams contributions. But the pain he played through, the preparation that he did, just being the consummate teammate, keeping things loose, but also demanding the best out of people; it’s one of those things that you can’t coach into somebody, in my opinion.
“I was around him for 12 years and he is just one of those special players. I’m seeing a Winnipeg team that’s taking on his identity and mindset. Took some timing, but with some better talent and some different buy-in and some more experience, I think that’s the reflection of what you’re seeing in Winnipeg currently.”
O’Shea, it’s worth noting, was equally effusive in his praise.
“Playing in front of Steiny, he was the smartest guy on the field all the time,” he said. “He was a deep thinker and thought the game to levels that most players don’t think the game. He had an ability to relate to all the guys on the field and find a way to get them to do what we needed them to do and perform. From the playing aspect, he was an all-star at three positions, which is unbelievable, and could also return kicks.
“As a teammate, couldn’t ask for a better guy to watch film with, because you knew you were going to get something accomplished and you were going to grow as a person. Most people that have been in the locker room with him have grown as a person, and – which if you’re going to say anything at the end of your career; if you’re ever going to be remembered for anything – Steiny is going to remember to all his teammates as helping them becoming better people, which is I think a phenomenal thing.”