#5 Willie Jefferson
CALGARY – It does count in the standings. And the result does get hung as a ‘W’ or an ‘L’ on the resumés of the starting quarterbacks and the head coaches. The stats matter, too, and don’t think players aren’t motivated by yardage, tackle, sack and touchdown totals and the potential financial rewards in terms of bonuses that might come with them.
There’s also this as we examine what’s at stake when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders meet Saturday night at McMahon Stadium with both teams already locked into their respective playoff spots: This game could very well be a preview of the Western Final at IG Field on December 5th. And don’t think that isn’t part of the underlying mood heading into Saturday’s potential prequel to the divisional final.
“It’s really about setting a tone,” said Bombers receiver Kenny Lawler. “This late in the season the weather is going to get however it gets, it’s going to be cold and it’s really about setting the tone and putting that physicality on tape that going into these next weeks we are the guys, we are the dogs that are going to get after it whoever we play.
“So, we want to play that on film that you’re going to come into this stadium on December 5th and you’re going to get what’s coming to you. You’re going to get a physical game and they’re going to know that by what we put on that film.”
Saturday’s matchup will be the third consecutive for the Bombers since clinching first place in the West Division. The club was all-in for a 31-21 win over the Montreal Alouettes earlier this month that put a bow on a perfect home schedule and followed that up by having nine starters out of the lineup in last week’s loss in Quebec.
Saturday’s lineup features more regulars back in place and a sense that this team wants to enter the playoffs without any lingering doubts about rust. So, ‘nothing game’? Try again.
“People definitely always say that… you can think that, but this is a great game for us to go into the playoffs with momentum,” said Bombers defensive tackle Steven Richardson. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs on a loss. I’m going to play this like any other game, if not better. I don’t see this game as just a nothing game at all.”
More on the Bombers vs. Stamps in the regular-season finale in this week’s 3 STORYLINES…
1. THE APPROACH
The Bombers roster looks more familiar than the one last week, with quarterback Zach Collaros, Richardson, safety Brandon Alexander, guard Pat Neufeld and left tackle Stanley Bryant all back. The question now is the age old staying sharp vs. staying healthy debate.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Thursday the roster decisions are based first on health – any player with any sort of lingering or nagging injury gets rest – and then after that playing time is based on who might need more reps.
“A lot of that depends on flow of the game and those type of things, too,” O’Shea said. “You can lay out the plans all you want, it’s not a round ball. It doesn’t always bounce the way you think it’s going to bounce. I’ll give you an example: you can say you’re going to give a tailback ‘X’ number of series and then you’re two-and-out three times and then you add another series, and you add another series and you add another series because you’re just not getting the touches you wanted to get.
“… there are just so many variables that get affected as the game goes on. So you lay a loose plan for the most part, you check the flow of the game and then you revisit as you go along. That’s the way we do it, I’m sure other people do it differently.”
2. THE APPROACH, QB EDITION
Further to the above, the Bombers will roll out Collaros for the first snap from centre to start the game. After that, it remains a bit of a mystery as to what the Bombers will do with their QB rotation, with Sean McGuire not practising on Thursday and Dru Brown picking up those snaps.
Again, this is about getting Collaros some live reps – especially after he sat out last week – knowing that the Bombers have a first-round bye in the playoffs before the Western Final on the first Sunday in December. All that said, there is also an argument to be made for not dressing Collaros and stuffing their MOP into some bubble wrap to keep him from any sort of malady.
“The obvious pro to the rest is some aches and pains you’re going through during the season, you get some time to rest and take care of those things and try to feel better. It’s a long season,” said Collaros earlier this week.
“With that as well, as long as we continue to practice at a high level – and we do a lot of 1 vs 1 stuff and it’s a very competitive practice – I can really only speak for myself personally, but we try replicate a game out there and our defence is flying around, so as long as I’m getting a lot of those reps I’ll feel comfortable going into any situation.”
3. TIDY UP THE SPECIALS
The Bombers’ kick-cover units have been solid this year and the return game was showing life of late with Janarion Grant’s return to health, including a punt-return TD against B.C. on October 23rd. But Grant has been out of the lineup – and will be again this week – and his replacement, Shaq Cooper, struggled with two fumbles, losing one. He is listed as the returner for Saturday’s game against the Stamps, although Kelvin McKnight is also a possibility.
Sergio Castillo has hit three of his four field goal attempts – missing from 38 in his debut two weeks ago but not trying a three in last week’s loss. He has also missed one of his five convert attempts. All this is to say that as the playoffs approach this is critical to tidy up, because every yard of field position could be massive and every kicking point left off the scoreboard potentially disastrous.