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October 2, 2019

“We’ve just got to get back to playing our game.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #30 Winston Rose during practice at IG Field September 24, 2019

Winston Rose is a gregarious sort, the kind who will look you straight in the eyes, call you by your first name and is as quick with a handshake as he is with a smile.

But ask the Winnipeg Blue Bombers cornerback about the handiwork of the defence, and in particular the secondary over the last two weeks, and his face changes. His jaw clenches and in the ensuing conversation there is a mix of disappointment and anger in his voice.

“We just haven’t been playing our game for the last five quarters because in the Montreal game in the first three quarters we were unstoppable,” began Rose after practice Wednesday. “But the last five quarters we haven’t been playing Bombers football and so we’ve got to get back to that.”

It’s here where we need to tear off the band-aid for a moment for Bombers fans and bring some grotesque and painful numbers to the forefront again. In the last two games – losses to the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats – the Bombers have been lit up for seven touchdowns and 847 yards passing as Montreal’s Vernon Adams Jr. (27-of-43 for 488 yards) and Dane Evans of Hamilton (25-of-32 for 359 yards) have completed 69.3% of their passes.

Here’s a further breakdown: from an Alouettes drive that began in the end of the third quarter through to halftime of the loss to Hamilton last week, the Bombers surrendered 616 yards passing and five TDs in a stretch of three quarters.

Ouch.

And while the Bombers defence continues to be stout against the run, it’s the holes in the air defence which have become particularly alarming.

“Vernon Adams having over 500 yards (including 38 yards rushing) and last game… I can’t remember, but those definitely stick with me and I definitely want to cut those down and get back to what we know: takeaways, being relentless, having fun out there and just playing our game. Bombers football,” said Rose.

“We’ve just got to get back to playing our game. Coach Richie (Hall) always said to start fast, finish strong and right now we’re kind of playing passive. So now we’ve got to take our game and put in our hands and not the opponents’ hands.

“In a fight or any battle you’re going to get punched. So, it’s how you’re going to respond back and in the last five quarters we haven’t responded back how we’re supposed to. These next couple of games are a playoff atmosphere and it’s going to be a fight. We’re going to take some punches. But at the end of the day, we want to come out on top.”

There is some hope on the horizon. Brandon Alexander is scheduled to return for the Bombers – perhaps at safety, but the club won’t confirm that move yet – and his skills as a cover guy, communicator and leader will be a solid addition for a secondary that could use all of the above.

Said Bombers defensive backs coach Jordan Younger of Alexander, “He’s a banger. He likes mixing it up and that makes us that much more versatile.

“He’s probably one of the guys that spends the most time here. He’s just a gym rat, always watching film and he has a certain comfort level out on the field that makes it easier for him to communicate with others. Just having that steadying personality on the field to keep things calm and talk about the plays as they’re happening, that makes us a better football team.”

Rose indicated that the Bombers DBs have got to return to the short-memory principle. Instead, too many times over the last few games they’ve let the explosion plays against linger and that can carry over from one play to the next, one possession to the next.

That notion was broached with Younger, who was asked if the negative energy can be as contagious as positive play is infectious to a group.

“Absolutely. Getting beat is part of being a defensive back, right? It’s a part of it,” he said. “It’s going to happen. And the ability to bounce back from getting beat is what separates some of the great DBs from some of the good ones, because any time a DB gives up a play he’s disappointed because his pride is hurt, his ego is hurt. But then he’s also disappointed because he let his boys down.

“Being able to hit the reset button, start fresh and then put it behind you and use it as information as far as a game plan is concerned, that is contagious. And like what you’re saying, a guy that goes to the sideline and hangs his head brings that negative energy, that sad energy to the sidelines, that is also contagious.”

The recent plight has dropped the Bombers pass defence ranking to sixth in the CFL, at 300.6 yards surrendered per game. Winnipeg still ranks second in points allowed, and is tied with three teams – Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton – with 27 TDs surrendered, fewest in the league.

“We try to keep things in perspective, right?,” said Younger. “The losses… of course they hurt, of course we’re disappointed. But, again, we’ve played a lot of good football and we try and focus on doing more of the good and less of the bad.

“All secondaries across the league face those challenges. We’re in some closer games so those issues are magnified. It’s one of the things players experience. There’s a couple young guys out there recognizing the situations, recognizing what the challenges are and a lot of the young guys, they don’t know what they don’t know yet.

“So, going through that process and making that mistake helps us get a step closer to where we want to be at.”


OUCH UPDATE:

Both WR Darvin Adams and Drew Wolitarsky were back on the field for practice Wednesday. DB Anthony Gaitor was at practice, but not participating.

“We’ll give Anthony Gaitor time to figure out whether he can go or not,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “And I’m not sure, once again, that Anthony needs to practice necessarily.”

FYI:

Contrary to another rumour circulating, the Bombers do not have plans on trading for a veteran QB. Said O’Shea on the subject Wedndesday: “As I said before, this day and age anybody can write anything they want and be a reporter.”

NEXT MAN UP:

The season-ending surgery to Matt Nichols last week has not only made Chris Streveler QB1 for the remainder of the year, but has elevated Sean McGuire to the No. 2 spot. The 23-year-old Western Illinois product has impressed the club’s brass dating back to the free-agent camp in Florida in the spring through the preseason.

But he has yet to throw a single regular season pass.

“I definitely feel I’m much further along than when I first got here,” said McGuire Wednesday. “I’ve been able to get more reps in practice lately, but no matter what from the beginning getting my reps and being in the film room and studying I feel like I’ve come a long way.

“I like where I’m at right now. I’m confident in my preparation in just trying to help this team win every day.”

The Bombers have indicated they will not be trading for another QB which, indirectly, is a vote of confidence to both Streveler and McGuire.

“I just feel really fortunate to be here,” said McGuire. “I love where I’m at, I truly do, and I have from Day 1. I’m just doing what I can to help this team win and it was the same thing when I was third string. I support Matt and I support Chris and still do. Along the way I think I’ve earned the respect of everyone in the building. That’s been a goal of mine.”