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August 30, 2019

48-Hour Primer | LDC

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #51 Jermarcus Hardrick during practice August 20, 2019

The starting quarterback is on the shelf for another month or so and the all-star running back is taking a two-week forced sabbatical. They are down two starters on defence, have a rookie at left guard, and a couple of days ago cut one of their marquee free-agent signings adrift.

Oh, and they are heading into a weekend which has traditionally been a graveyard for squads from these parts for most of the last 30 years.

Yet, wandering through the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room Friday afternoon after practice there was hardly a hint of panic or concern. There were no signs of any players curled up in the fetal position whimpering from a sense of dread or fear.

Cynics might say that’s simply blind faith, seeing as they’ll head into Regina for the annual Labour Day Classic against the Saskatchewan Roughriders minus Matt Nichols and Andrew Harris, Jackson Jeffcoat and Brandon Alexander and after cutting Chris Matthews.

But, it’s believe or get bowled over at this point for the Bombers right now as they prepare for their annual Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl doubleheader with their fiercest rivals.

“It still has to be like every other game,” began Bombers slotback Nic Demski. “We can’t let this stuff frustrate us or have us hang our heads or anything like that. This is a next-man up league, a next-man up team. We’ve prepared well, the people that have to step up in different roles have prepared well. We’re going to be alright.

“Hey, last week the CFL poll had everyone all voting Edmonton because we didn’t have our starting quarterback. I get that, because obviously Matt’s a big part of this team, but we didn’t really think like that as a team. It just goes to show we’re not going to panic over here and we realize that life goes on and the next person has got to step up. We’ve done that all year.”

The Bombers and Riders are the CFL’s hottest squads right now; Winnipeg having cranked out three straight wins after dropping two on the road in Ontario with the Riders on a five-game heater.

Yet, the Bombers – at 8-2 and tied with Hamilton for the best record in the league right now aren’t just dealing with some key pieces out, they are still trying to convince everyone that what they did last week in a win over Edmonton in which they threw for under 100 yards and gave up close to 500 yards offence in what was still a dominant defensive effort can be sustainable until the sick bay empties.

They also continue to preach this ‘next-man up’ mentality which means a second start for Chris Streveler at quarterback, a first start for Johnny Augustine in place of Harris and for others – like guard Drew Desjarlais and halfback Marcus Rios – to continue to go make a seamless transition from understudy to the spotlight.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in the huddle,” said right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick. “If they got blue on, man, they’re family and we love ‘em. Matt being out, that hurts because he’s the leader, he’s the quarterback, he’s the guy who changed my life as I’ve been here the last four years. Andrew is the same way. But I have a lot of confidence in Streveler and you guys will see a lot about Johnny… I’m excited about Johnny.

“The only thing we have to change up is just put more on our shoulders. I don’t think this will be a different game plan or anything like that. The leaders need to step up, the leaders need to make sure we don’t have dropped balls.

“That’s the biggest thing Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) has preached – the leaders have kept this thing even sail. You don’t see a big dip off from us. Guys could be down from a lot of the events we had this week, but we’re up and ready to go and whoever is in that huddle if they’ve got blue on, we’re going to play.”


The Bombers completed their final full practice before Sunday’s Labour Day Classic behind closed doors today. Here are the some of the other items that came out of Friday’s media availability…

MATTHEWS FINDS A HOME:

It didn’t take long for Chris Matthews to find a home following his release by the Bombers earlier this week, as he has landed on his feet with the Montreal Alouettes.

“We’re all happy for him and that he got picked up as early as he did,” said defensive end Willie Jefferson. “It’s a blessing for him not to have to go home and then come back to Canada and have a team that wants him right now. It’s good for him and his family.”

Oh, and by the way, the Bombers have two more meetings with the Als – September 21st in Montreal and October 12th here in Winnipeg.

“I’m pretty sure that chip’s going to be pretty big for him, but that ain’t got nothing to do with us,” continued Jefferson. “We’re going to play Winnipeg football and that’s the end of the story.”

“I’m happy for him. He was always a good guy to me,” added Hardrick. “He did nothing but good things when he was here for me. I don’t know what happened. We play him twice, so I’m excited. We’ll get a chance to hit him, so he gets a chance to feel how we play over here. I know he was new to things over here and he had to fit in, so now he gets the chance to feel us. I know if I was in his situation I would be motivated. Twice, also? Very motivated.”

PLAYOFFS… IN SEPTEMBER?!:

Adam Bighill’s first Labour Day experience came last year in his first season with the Bombers. And asked to try and put the game into words, he offered this:

“When you feel that electrifying atmosphere, that’s playoff like… I mean, you can feel how important the game is. It’s a Western game, a Western opponent, it’s a rival… it feels great, especially with how much it means to this community, it makes it that much more fun.

“Last year was my first taste of it. I never had a Labour Day Classic experience. The atmosphere is amazing… I would compare it to playoffs and Grey Cup. That’s the atmosphere you feel and it’s good to get that feeling here in September.”

ENCORE, ENCORE:

A week ago Jefferson authored one of the most dominant defensive performances in recent memory. Asked Friday what he might do for an encore, the Bombers DE grinned.

“Hopefully I can get me a Pick-6 or a scoop and score,” he said. “That’s really the only way you can out-do that game. It’s not about me, it’s about the team and playing defence within the scheme and going out there and getting a win.”