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August 6, 2019

48-Hour Primer | CGY vs WPG

There are any number of theories out there about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, once the toast of the Canadian Football League but now forced to answer some hard questions amidst of some serious soul searching.

But while there are the typical takes on offensive and defensive inconsistency, about mental miscues and physical mistakes, the bigger question might simply be how they respond Thursday night at IG Field in a West Division showdown against the Calgary Stampeders, both teams 5-2.

So, forget all the deep dives and the Xs and Os examinations and consider this, courtesy Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson:

“Mike Tyson used to say, ‘Everybody is a great fighter, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ That’s what happened down East to us. Sometimes you get punched in the face and then you have to react. Right now it’s reaction time for us. When we come out this week we know it’s a battle for first. We don’t want to be No. 2.”

This week’s showdown will not only be a matchup of the teams with the two best regular season records in the Canadian Football League dating back to 2016, but also marks the first time the two sides have met since Calgary’s win in last November’s West Final.

Yet, the narrative swirling around the two clubs has changed over the last few weeks. The Stamps have been without CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell since late June with a pectoral injury, but have got some steady play from Nick Arbuckle out of the bullpen in a 4-1 run over the last five games.

The Bombers, meanwhile, were cruising along at 5-0 – the third-best start in franchise history – until blowing a tire, two of them, on their Golden Horseshoe road trip that now has them at 5-2.

“There’s still a lot of positivity around here,” said Bombers right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick. “I don’t see us riding any highs or lows, I see a lot of guys who have been in the CFL before, guys who haven’t been perfect before, a lot of guys who have lost two games before. We’ve got a lot of vets, we’ve got a great coaching staff. We’re in the right state of mind.

“The biggest thing is you have to learn from it. You have to look at it as a learning lesson. There are a lot of things we did in those games that we hadn’t done in the other games. You can say we took two ‘L’s’, but for us in here and for us to stay mentally strong, we have to move on.

“Besides,” added Hardrick with a grin, “it’s always exciting playing Calgary. It’s always a big game. What is it, Week 9? Playing Calgary in Week 9 at home… man, those are the games in the offseason you smile about when you think about them, even if you don’t want to look too far ahead. This should be everything you want to see in a football game.”


The Bombers finished their final full practice today in advance of Thursday’s game behind closed doors. Here are some notes and quotes from today’s media availability in our 48-HOUR PRIMER

ROUND 1:

The Bombers and Stamps meet three times this season – Thursday here in Winnipeg and then a home-and-home in Weeks 19 and 20 (October 19th and 25th). Those will mark the final two regular season games for the Bombers, who have the bye in Week 21, the last of the schedule.

“This is a team we play three times this year and so it’s big in the season series to get the first one to make sure you don’t have to win two in a row at the end of the year,” said Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. “So, this is a big one from that standpoint, also.”

STAMPS QB WATCH:

Bo Levi Mitchell returned to practice on Tuesday and ran the skeleton team offence while Nick Arbuckle remained with the starters.

“Arm felt great. Overall felt really good,” Mitchell told reporters in Calgary. “They’re kind of having to temper me down, made sure I don’t overdo it. I’m ready to let it rip. If I’m in the lineup, I expect to be the guy on the field.”

Bombers DE Willie Jefferson said the defensive gameplan doesn’t change whether it is Mitchell or Arbuckle behind centre. Clearly there is a difference in experience, but Jefferson tipped his hat to Arbuckle.

“He’s a guy just trying to get the job done,” he said. “He’s a good quarterback who has been in the league two-three years. He’s stepped in and made a name for himself by making some good plays and getting the ball to his receivers in a timely fashion.

“You go at him just like you would with a veteran quarterback. You want to get back there and disrupt him as much as possible, try to get him moving around and throwing not off his good foot so he’s throwing some ugly balls.”

INJURY UPDATE:

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Tuesday that the club is still assessing the status of DE Jackson Jeffcoat. He hasn’t practised all week and an update will likely come on Wednesday morning when the depth chart for Thursday’s game is released.

In the meantime, Jeffcoat’s absence means rookie DE Jonathan Kongbo will continue to get more defensive snaps in a rotation with Willie Jefferson and Craig Roh.

“Every practice he’s learning something and his work ethic is excellent,” said O’Shea. “He runs extremely hard in practice and practises hard. He works on his techniques and his fundamentals every day in practice. As he learns more about our game he’ll just get better and as he gets more snaps he’ll just keep getting better. His role will increase.”