Quick Hits from Wednesday and Day 7 of Blue Bombers training camp…
1. ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES: The Blue Bombers are scheduled to play a preseason game Friday night against the Edmonton Elks at IG Field in what would be the first tune-up game since 2019.
The 2020 CFL campaign, as we’re all still painfully aware, was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while last year’s abbreviated schedule did not include preseason games.
And so the question was put to head coach Mike O’Shea after practice Wednesday: just how big a loss would losing a preseason game due ongoing collective-bargaining discussions be?
“To the club on the business side, for sure,” he said. “For the players that want a more fair evaluation, in pads going against a competitive opponent instead of just practice where we don’t finish as much, yeah, it certainly would be disappointing (to not have preseason games).
“But we managed to do it last year, too. I think as a coaching staff you can evaluate players not as well as you’d like to (without) the preseason. It’s not in our control, so we just won’t worry about it like that.”
2. DEEP CUTS THE KNIFE: The Blue Bombers made one transaction on Wednesday and it was a notable move, as they released veteran receiver Jalen Saunders prior to practice.
A former 1,000-yard receiver during his days with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saunders was trying to find his game again after injuring his knee in 2018, which caused him to miss all of 2019, and then seeing the 2020 CFL season cancelled. He had signed in Ottawa last year, but was lost another season after being in a car accident prior to the season. O’Shea wouldn’t go into details on the move, saying only: “Every time we release anybody there’s a variety of reasons. I don’t think we go into those reasons with everybody, so… you’ve got to understand we always make decisions that are the best for the team.
“You’ve also got to look at the fact he was trying to work back in after a big layoff, too.”
Saunders had been in the discussion as a possible answer along with Greg Ellingson to the loss of Kenny Lawler (Edmonton) and Darvin Adams (Ottawa) in free agency. His release also says something of the quality of work of those outside of Ellingson and last year’s starters — Rasheed Bailey, Nic Demski and Drew Wolitarsky — including receiver/returner Janarion Grant, second-year Bombers Kelvin McKnight and Brendan O’Leary-Orange, camp returnees Carlton Agudosi and Blake Jackson, and the collection of new faces like BJ Muckelvene, Antonio Nunn, Whop Philyor, Keyion Dixon, Dalton Schoen, Lucky Jackson and T.J. Simmons.
3. MORE HIGH PRAISE: Ellingson hasn’t practised a great deal this week as the club works — hopefully — toward the regular season. But the veteran pass catcher has earned rave reviews from O’Shea.
“It’s not just about his consistency,” said O’Shea. “If you just look at the numbers or watch any game he’s played in he’s consistently one of the best receivers on the field. And now he’s with us, which is excellent.
“He’s seen everything. He knows all the CFL defences, he understands what the quarterback’s looking for… he’s got good leadership skills in his own way and obviously we want guys to lead in their own way. It’s exciting to have him. He’s been consistently playing at such a high level for a number of years, it’s nice to have him on our side.”
4. NO GRAY AREA: Quietly and efficiently, veteran Geoff Gray continues to stake a claim to the starting left guard job left vacant by the departure of Drew Desjarlais to the New England Patriots.
“It’s the same things we’ve liked every year,” said O’Shea about the University of Manitoba product’s game. “He’s big, strong, physical, he knows what he’s doing, he fits in with the guys.
“One of the things is if you watch him closely you’ll see Geoff Gray downfield — you already see Jermarcus (Hardrick) running like crazy, but in a game you’ll also see Geoff Gray downfield always finishing his blocks, which is always excellent to see.”
5. NEXT: The Blue Bombers are scheduled to hold their short walk-through practice on Thursday from 11:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m.