They are easy dots to connect for a potential storyline: a rookie quarterback making his first career start vs. Willie Jefferson, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end who has made a career of being a human wrecking ball to opposition offensive gameplans.
The Blue Bombers head to Ottawa this weekend in the wake of the devastating news the RedBlacks have again lost starting QB Jeremiah Masoli for the season, this time to an Achilles injury. In steps rookie Dustin Crum, who has all of 21 throws to his name – all in relief in last week’s loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
So, slather him in BBQ sauce and let Jefferson & Co. eat, right?
“It’s never like that. Those guys are professionals just like us. They’ll watch the film and put in the work, just like us,” said Jefferson as the Blue Bombers returned to the practice field on Tuesday. “We’ve got to go out there and handle our business. We’ve got to do what we do, grind them down and make them quit.”
Asked what he knows of Crum – a 24-year-old product of Kent State – Jefferson shrugged his shoulders.
“I know absolutely nothing about this guy other than the stuff we saw on film,” he said. “I know (Blue Bombers defensive back) Jamal Parker played with him in college at Kent State but other than that we know he wants to pass the ball, but he will run if he needs to. He’s not really a sprinter, but he can get positive yardage if you let him.”
“He’s a typical back-up quarterback who doesn’t want to make too many mistakes so he can stay on the field. At the same time, he wasn’t taking too many chances downfield to try and move the offence in big chunks.”
Jefferson has been at his absolute best over the last two weeks, racking up four sacks, five tackles, one forced fumble and one pass knockdown in the wins over Montreal and Calgary. He’s currently second in the CFL with six sacks – B.C.’s Mathieu Betts has nine – and in the process has moved into 39th spot on the league’s all-time list with 63 career sacks. Next up on that list is former Blue Bomber/Lion Michael Gray, who retired with 64 QB kills.
FYI: Jefferson had seven sacks in each of the last two seasons and is quick to tip his hat to Jackson Jeffcoat and his impact at the opposite end.
“It’s not me doing anything different this year, it’s just me trying to finish,” Jefferson said. “I had Jackson (Jeffcoat) the first game and then he was out the next two games, so I was trying to keep the intensity up on the edge.
“When Jackson is out there it’s not that you see less of the double-teams, it’s that they have to pick and choose which side they want to do it to. When it’s just me out there, they can gameplan to slide to #5, or the back can do a chip-release where he makes sure he chips the end, especially if #5 is to that side. Or if the wide receiver is running a check down, he can check release on #5 before he gets to his route.
“But when Jackson is out there, they can still do that to #5, but now they’ve got to worry about #94, too. Jackson and I switch sides now, too, and that makes a difference. Jackson has put in his work over the years, so he gets his respect. (Celestin) Haba is a new guy, so a lot of offensive coordinators might not feel as though he’s as much a threat… yet.”
More news and notes from the Blue Bombers first practice day of the week in NEED TO KNOW…
SICK BAY EMPTYING:
LB Kyrie Wilson and CB Winston Rose, both on the six-game injured list to start the season, were back at their posts getting regular work on Tuesday. DB Jamal Parker was also dressed and participated at the beginning before easing off.
Wilson has been out since last July as he recovered from an Achilles injury.
“I think it’s uplifting for the guys,” said head coach Mike O’Shea on having Wilson back. “They really like Kyrie; everybody knows how good a football player he is and to see him work that hard to get back and be out there practising with the guys is special for everybody.”
On the flip side, there was no sign of KR/WR Janarion Grant, who was injured in Friday’s win over the Calgary Stampeders. And QB Dru Brown, who missed last week’s game due to non-injury related reasons, has yet to return to the club.
STEP RIGHT UP:
With Grant not at practice, Greg McCrae, Abu Daramy-Swaray, Demerio Houston an Nic Demski all took turns on Tuesday fielding punts.
“We’ll be fine… there’ll be somebody back there. We’re not going to just put 11 guys on the field and concede by any means,” said O’Shea with a grin. “As you know, it’s always difficult when you’re dealing with a guy who is probably the best in the league, the next guys stepping in has big shoes to fill. But we’ve got a bunch of guys who are willing to do it and can do it. Can they do it as well as Janarion? We’ll see. A lot of these guys were behind somebody else and then got a chance.
“We know the guys who are willing to go back there are all very athletic. They certainly give us a good chance.”
The RedBlacks bolstered their QB depth with the Masoli news, adding two more pivots on Tuesday in Jake Dunniway of Sacramento State and Tyrrell Pigrome, who shone with the Blue Bombers in the preseason before being released following the return of Dakota Prukop from the USFL… The CFL’s weekly PFF honour roll was announced Tuesday and it features Jeffcoat.
Late to this, but condolences to the family of long-time Blue Bombers assistant coach Gene Gaines, who passed away on July 4th at the age of 85.
Blue Bombers CB Demerio Houston is tied for the league lead in interceptions with three and has added three fumble recoveries.
“It starts in practice,” Houston said Tuesday. “Coach Richie (Hall, defensive coordinator) and JY (Jordan Younger, defensive backs coach) tell us all the time, ‘Loose change.’ So, whenever the ball is in the air or on the ground, we attack it. I just try to transfer that from practice to the games and luckily, it’s been coming out good for me.
“That’s our motto. That’s how we play and that’s how we make plays – go to the ball – whether it’s in practice, whether it’s an incomplete pass or a fumble… go get your loose change.”
Houston was a mainstay in the Blue Bombers secondary last season before an injury cost him the rest of the year. And this year he’s admittedly settling into a group that has been hit hard by injuries.
“I’m definitely feeling comfortable, definitely feeling myself out,” he said. “I felt like I was playing at a very high-level last year and then the injury happened. At the beginning of the season, I was just getting my feet back under me, but the guys I’m playing with are making sure I know what I’m doing and I’m comfortable and vice versa and that helps me play fast.”
BROTHERS IN ARMS:
Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros and Jeremiah Masoli have a friendship and a kinship that dates to their days together with the Tiger-Cats. And so, when Masoli saw his season end on the weekend witn an Achilles injury, Collaros felt the pain, too.
“It’s terrible. I was able to reach out to him yesterday… there’s really nothing to say but you’re in our thoughts and prayers,” said Collaros. “It’s terrible, obviously, for Masoli and his family. It’s terrible for the league. I was really looking forward to watching that game and seeing him back, especially with him going back to Hamilton and all that. I love Jeremiah, so I just feel for him and his family.
“We’re kinda cut from the same cloth with respect to how we play the position. We were always told we were too small or couldn’t win dropping back. He’ll always send me a message, ‘Remember when you said to me, we’re going to play a long time?’ and we both have. What he does translates very well in this league. He can make every throw, he’s extremely mobile, extremely smart. Losing a guy like him, for the league, is terrible.
“It’s our livelihood but I’ve been through a 9-10 month injury myself and I know he’s been through it a couple of times, and everybody who has understands it’s not just the physical toll, it’s the mental part of it. He’s very strong willed, strong minded, so he’ll get through it. It’s just not something I wish upon anybody.”