Quick Hits from Tuesday and Day 2 of the Blue Bombers practice week leading up to Friday’s home opener at IG Field against the Ottawa RedBlacks…
1. AND NOW A WORD FROM THE OC: Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Buck Pierce met with the media for the first time since camp started this spring and offered his take on a variety of topics.
-On QB Zach Collaros not getting any playing time in the two preseason games:
“Zach played a lot of football last year. We stayed in constant communication in the offseason and he’s had a great camp. He’s in great shape. He’s more fluent in the offence, coming back for his third season. We feel confident in him getting a lot of reps in practice, seeing a lot of different pictures from our defence and really getting the evaluation on the other two (Dru Brown and Dakota Prukop) throughout the preseason.”
-On CFL rookie WR Dalton Schoen and what he did in camp to earn a spot on the team and, possibly, in the starting lineup:
“Every guy that we sign shows us something on tape. But when he stepped out here on the first day of rookie camp you could tell he had done his research on the CFL. He’s out there waggling and he’s running and he didn’t miss any reps. He got better every practice. The hard thing for a lot of the young Americans coming up is it’s a shorter camp. To be able to absorb all that information in a quick period of time is very impressive. He got better and better as we went along.”
-On what he wanted the offence to improve on after leading the CFL in offensive points per game last year:
“There’s always got to be improvement. We’ve got to continue to evolve and adapt, just like everybody else. As personnel changes, as the game changes, we’ve got to look for ways to get better and improve.
“We want to continue to do the things we do well, better. A lot of people say, ‘You worked, you improved… what else are you going to do?’ A lot of times it’s doing what you do better, putting your players in position to do what they do well and asking more of your players.
“When you have a veteran group of players like we have here it’s asking them to find that extra gear, that extra edge. That’s the exciting part.”
2. A FAMILIAR FACE RETURNS: In one of the strangest scheduling quirks in the CFL last year — and a real lost marketing opportunity — the Blue Bombers did not face their former offensive coordinator in Paul LaPolice, who became Ottawa’s head coach last season. That changes Friday when the RedBlacks open the season here, followed by the second half of a doubleheader in Ottawa a week later.
Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea downplayed that story angle when asked about it on Tuesday after practice.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with that; it’s about getting the season started,” said O’Shea. “Training camp always comes with that anticipation of getting on the field and playing a game and seeing what how the things you put in in the offseason have been validated and the coaches want to see how it plays out. I don’t think it matters who the opponent was going to be, the excitement was going to be there.”
All of that, of course, wasn’t meant to downplay the significance of LaPolice’s input in the years and then during the Blue Bombers 2019 championship season.
“We won a championship together,” O’Shea said. “He came in and helped generate a lot of wins with the offence he put in and the guidance be provided the players. When you win a championship you’ll always have a history together.”
3. GRADE ‘A’ TEAMMATE: O’Shea puts enormous value on the notion of being a good teammate. And that respect Geoff Gray, who is slotted in at the left guard spot, gets a solid grade from his coach.
“It’s easy to figure out: Geoff Gray is an unbelievable teammate,” O’Shea said “He’s always putting the team first and putting his guys first. He never wavers from his routine for the week and what he does for his O-linemen. He’s phenomenal.
“The 2019 Grey Cup (when Gray did not dress)… that stings, telling a guy that he’s not going to be playing. You feel so badly for them because he certainly played a lot that season and helped us win a lot of football games. Geoff’s certainly earned it. He’s a fantastic player and that’s a big part of it — that’s a reason while he’s on the field. But more than that he’s an unbelievable teammate.”
4. FYI: Tuesday’s Blue Bombers injury report featured four names: FB Mike Miller (ankle, limited), DE Jackson Jeffcoat (ankle, limited), LB Les Maruo (elbow, did not practice) and WR Kelvin McKnight (hip, did not practice)… News out of Ottawa courtesy Tim Baines of The Ottawa Sun — the RedBlacks will be without star RB William Powell on Friday. He’s being replaced by Devonte Williams, who spent time on the Blue Bombers practice roster last year… Janarion Grant and Demerio Houston have been primarily serving as the club’s kick returners at practice… O’Shea on Marc Liegghio, and the possibility of him handling all the kicking chores — punting, placekicking and kickoffs — to start the season: “Both guys came in and kicked at a really terrific rate through camp. We chart everything and they were mid-80s to 90 percent in terms of their kicking. Both guys showed they can do it and they put the work in during the offseason.”
5. FWIW: It’s always amusing how so many fan bases can get so lathered up over the weekly power rankings, but Blue Bombers faithful have had little to complain about over the last while.
For what it’s worth, the two-time defending Grey Cup champions remain atop the CFL.ca’s Power Rankings as we enter opening week. Discuss the rest amongst yourselves.