He’s likeable, well-spoken, and clearly a quick study of the Canadian Football League.
Yet there’s something else obviously at play here with Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie receiver Dalton Schoen and his early success in the three-down game that has been years in the making and taken eons to hone.
We’ve mentioned a few times now since the start of training camp how the 25-year-old Overland Park, KS native went from walk-on at Kansas State to a couple of NFL opportunities, to now chewing up defences here in Canada. And the basis of that, he told us after the club’s win in Vancouver a few weeks ago, is his walk-on mentality, to the point that he writes ‘Street Dog’ on his wrist tape before every game – a reminder of some advice his father gave him early on about nothing ever being handed to him and needing to earn everything every single day.
In Friday night’s 24-10 win in Edmonton over the Elks – a result that pushed the Blue Bombers to 7-0 for the first time since 1960 – the club needed some street dogs to step up in a game in which six starters were missing, including two from the receiving corps in Greg Ellingson and Nic Demski, along with safety Brandon Alexander, linebacker Kyrie Wilson, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and centre Michael Couture.
Schoen, it could be said, led that collection of street dogs with four catches for 146 yards and a sensational 81-yard TD reception from Zach Collaros. On top of that, three of his four receptions were second-down conversions on a night in which the Blue Bombers offence struggled to stay on the field.
His numbers through the first seven games of the season have Most Outstanding Rookie candidate written all over them – he now has 28 receptions for 503 yards and four scores – but those totals offer only a glimpse at his growing comfort level in the three-down game. Consider this: in his first three CFL games, Schoen had eight catches for 143 yards and a TD. In his last four games he’s pulled in 20 receptions for 360 yards and three TDs, while posting the first 100-yard game in his young career.
“It’s me getting more comfortable in the offence and the game in general and then just more comfortable with Zach and the guys around me,” said Schoen. “It’s been a tough stretch, too, because we haven’t had a lot of time to practice recently and so that’s always hard because you don’t want your fundamentals to fade or anything like that.
“But you could definitely say I’m getting more comfortable, especially with seeing coverages because it is a different game up here with the 12th man and the waggle and everything. Seeing coverages and learning from that, I’m getting better at that.”
On a night in which the attack had just seven completions to three receivers – Schoen, Drew Wolitarsky and Rasheed Bailey – it was a rookie with seven games under his belt who shone the brightest.
“I think things started to slow down for him in training camp,” said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea with a grin when asked if ‘things were starting to slow down for the rookie now.’ “He’s pro-ready right off the bat. I mean, he’s a very good player who prepares extremely hard and diligently. He’s humble, he takes in all the information, doesn’t think he has it… and he does. He’s got it.
“It was a nice game for him. Good finish. He refuses to go down.”
More on the Blue Bombers win Friday in Edmonton in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
SOME NOTES ON THE OFFENCE THAT MUST BE REVISITED… before we get to another solid defensive performance:
Strange but true: the last time the Blue Bombers won a game with just seven completions was August 23, 2019 – also in Edmonton – when Chris Streveler, playing for an injured Matt Nichols, went 7-of-17 for 89 yards but also rushed 14 times for 95 yards in a 34-28 win.
Rehashing some of the other odd numbers in Friday’s victory – Winnipeg ran 30 less plays than Edmonton (39-69) and had the ball for almost a full quarter less (22 minutes and 46 seconds to 37:14).
Even with the limited possession totals, Collaros was dynamite in delivering the two TD strikes – the first to Rasheed Bailey after a Deatrick Nichols interception – and when the team needed to put the choke hold on the victory.
“I thought we did a great job at the end of the game when it mattered the most,” said Collaros, who was content with the result, but still obviously frustrated in his post-game address. “Rasheed’s touchdown was a huge play by the defence with a tipped ball and Deatrick (Nichols) made a great interception. And before the second half Dalton just kept working and believed in the play and did a great job YACing after the catch.
“And I thought it was a big drive there at the end. Obviously, we were fortunate enough to get the penalty there (a roughing the kicker infraction against Edmonton on a punt that kept the drive alive), converted on a second and long (to Schoen) and I think Janarion (Grant) would have walked in for a touchdown there but was interfered with. And then Dru (Brown) did a great job commanding the huddle, taking some time off the clock and scoring.”
THE COLLAROS-TO-SCHOEN SCORE… covered 81 yards and was the longest TD pass in the esteemed career of Collaros. He was at his best on the play, stepping up in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield to find Schoen.
Ready for more of this please pic.twitter.com/JpiRcRtVYf
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) July 23, 2022
“With the play we had and the coverage they were in I felt like I was kind of dead,” Schoen said. “I tried to pop into a window early if Zach wanted it but as soon as I saw him starting to scramble, I just kept running, ran to green grass because I know when he’s going to step up, he’s got eyes to make plays.
“He gave me a great ball and I just wanted to get into the end zone after that.”
NOW TO THE DEFENCE… which continues to be so stingy, particularly in defending their own half of the field.
The Elks had 12 drives Friday and had that dominant time of possession total (37:14), but had to settle for three Sergio Castillo field goals of 52, 44 and 27 yards and a single on a missed 48-yard attempt.
“We had some explosives on offence, but when the yards don’t equate to points… people think time of possession but show me that stat that says that means winning,” said O’Shea. “I don’t know that it does.”
What was especially impressive for the defence – still missing safety Brandon Alexander and without linebacker Kyrie Wilson and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat – was how many players had their fingerprints on the victory.
“We want to have all three phases clicking at the same time but sometimes it doesn’t go that way,” said Adam Bighill. “You can’t say enough about the continuity we have, the coaching we have, the leadership we have. Guys come in and learn from the vets before them and come in ready to play. We still expect high production even if guys are out.”
Winnipeg had five sacks in the first half from five different players, including the first in the careers of Cam Lawson and Les Maruo as well as from Adam Bighill, Casey Sayles and L.B. Mack III.
Willie Jefferson had three pass knockdowns, Nichols had the interception, while 19 players registered at least one defensive tackle.
“I’m sure it felt great for him,” said Bighill of the Maruo sack. “He ran the stunt perfectly and came home. It was great to see. I know he was pumped, and we were all pumped for him.”
NO OFFICIAL WORD ON THE STATUS OF RECEIVER… Carlton Agudosi, who got rolled up on in the second half and had to be helped off the field. We likely won’t get an indication of how long he might be out until the team returns to practice later this week, but his injury – coupled with those to Demski, Ellingson and Brendan O’Leary-Orange – has spread the receiving corps thin.
Ellingson was on just the one-game injured list, while Demski, who is on six-game, has now missed four games and has yet to return to practice.
FINALLY, CONDOLENCES… to the family of Dr. Henry Janzen, who passed away July 20. A member of the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame, Janzen played for the Blue Bombers from 1959-65 and was named the Most Outstanding Rookie in 1959 and a West Division All-Star in 1965.
After his playing days he served as the head coach of the University of Manitoba Bisons, leading them to back-to-back Vanier Cup titles in 1969 and 1970. For more on Dr. Janzen, check out this video by Joe Pascucci:
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