July 19, 2023

The Playbook | EDM vs WPG

There was nothing subtle about the choice of attire the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence debuted at Wednesday’s walk-through practice or, it would seem, the message behind it.

On the eve of Thursday’s home date with the Edmonton Elks every defensive player and coach took to the field wearing navy blue button-up short-sleeve shirts with their last name featured on a white oval on one side and ‘B2W’ – Back 2 Work – on the other.

“We all got our shirts today. It’s our motto right now – back to work,” said linebacker Les Maruo. “Like a mechanic we wear our work shirts and go to work every single day.”

The Blue Bombers have been an interesting study over the last few days in the wake of their collapse in last Saturday’s 31-28 loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks, a game in which they blew a 16-point lead with less than three minutes left.

Now 4-2 at the one-third mark of the Canadian Football League season, they are relying on the same practices after an epic meltdown as they would employ after a win. To that end, no one pointed fingers or flipped over tables in anger, even in the immediate aftermath last Saturday. Instead, it was hard-hat and lunch pail time for players and, interestingly, sandwiched into a short work week was a Bible study in which the Book of Job was discussed.

“It’s about a test of his faith,” said receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “Job had all this land, his family, and this success and then it’s taken away from him. He continues to worship and continues to have faith through that downfall and then he’s blessed with more than what he had on the other side.

“It’s an interesting analogy. Whether you’re religious or not, the sentiment is the same. Are you going to change your character based on the external circumstances? Or are you going to stay here? We’ve been fortunate the last few years. We really have. We’ve won a lot of close games that were on the fence in the past. We didn’t win this one. So, when you lose you start to look at things differently and you start to be more critical.

“Sometimes when you’re winning, you’re overlooking things,” Wolitarsky added. “You’re letting things slip under the rug because it’s, ‘Hey, we won. It’s working.’ In a game like (the Ottawa loss) you learn your lesson, man. It’s humbling. It’s very frustrating what happened, but at the end of the day we made too many mistakes when you can’t make those mistakes. You’ve got to finish the game. You have to.”

The Blue Bombers will welcome back receiver Kenny Lawler this week after his six weeks away and have made four changes in total as detailed here. They are heavy favourites against a winless Elks side, but the opponent – truth be told – doesn’t really matter after what happened in Ottawa.

“The lesson learned? It’s just about finishing a game and respecting an opponent at all times,” said safety Brandon Alexander this week. “It’s about being able to play all four quarters and not thinking you’re just going to show up and take care of business. You’ve got to go out there and actually take care of business.

“There’s no magic sauce or words that have you go out there and do it. You actually have to go out there and do it. We’ve got a good group and we’ve got to keep reminding each other to go out there and do what we need to do on every single drive whether it’s offence, defence, or special teams. That’s it.

“It’s tough that we lost. But we’ve got another game and now it’s another chance to go out there and play all four quarters. We still need to find that strength that we have in here,” added Wolitarsky. “We still need to find that drive and realize that teams that have seen us the last three years aren’t waving the white flag when they play us. They want to beat us to prove something.

“We’ve been that team for a while. Now we’ve got to respond to that, too.”

More notes and quotes to help get Blue Bombers fans ready for Thursday in this week’s Playbook


The Blue Bombers are coming off their lowest rushing total in a game since October of 2015, having managed just 26 yards along the ground. Despite that Brady Oliveira continues to lead the CFL in rushing while coming off a performance in which he had a career high 108 yards receiving.

But establishing the run game has long been part of what the Blue Bombers have done, especially over the last few years. Doing that consistently is always the battle up front.

“Every single week it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Oliveira said Wednesday. “Teams know this is our identity – we want to run the football – so they’re going to bring their best when they play us, and that defence is going to be a challenge no matter who we’re playing. We look forward to it.

“I’ve said it time and time again – when our offensive line gets going and the run game gets going it brings so much confidence and energy to this offence. It definitely does make it tough when we can’t run the football and that’s for any team, not just our team. If you want to be a successful team in this league you’ve got to establish the run game.”

The Blue Bombers are still averaging 109.0 yards rushing per game – third in the CFL. To further hammer this home, a stat courtesy the CFL: of the 10 lowest rushing total games for the Blue Bombers since 2016, including last week, the club is just 3-7.

“They had a real good plan, so give them credit,” said guard Pat Neufeld of the RedBlacks. “I know it sounds like a broken record, but teams gameplan for what we do in the run game and they’re not letting us just fire off the ball anymore. We’re having to make reads on the fly and make some adjustments for what teams are doing to us up front.

“Running the football is not always indicative of playing physical or winning games, but when you see 20-something yards (rushing), it’s not a great sign.”

Still, the Blue Bombers will insist they don’t fixate on any number other than the score. Their goal, as offensive coordinator Buck Pierce has said repeatedly, is to be ‘multiple’ and be able to adapt week to week to whatever a defence is showing them. That idea was reinforced earlier this week by head coach Mike O’Shea.

“We’re built and more importantly we’re wired right in terms of we’re not pigeon-holing ourselves,” he said. “That’s for you guys to say, what we are and what we’re not. In our room we’re like a chameleon – we’re going to win a game any way we need to from one week to the next. It doesn’t need to look like it did last week; it doesn’t need to look like it did last year, the year before or whatever, it just needs to look like a win. Now, we didn’t get that. But if a team is going to stack the box with 10 guys, we’re going to throw the ball all day, right? What’s it matter what it looks like? Week in and week out it doesn’t make a difference to this group. They’re wired to understand that from one week to the next whatever it’s going to look like it’s going to look like.”


Zach Collaros was asked in his media availability on Wednesday on a couple of occasions about the offensive line. First, on the notion he has taken more hits so far this year:

“I don’t notice any difference, to be quite honest with you. We have a good plan, we have a really good group up front, so I don’t ever worry about taking a hit. It’s part of the game – you have to deliver the football; you have to be on time and sometimes you’re going to get hit.”

And then on the criticism the O-line has been hearing, especially over the last few days:

“Those guys are unbelievable. Those are my guys. They’re the best group I’ve ever played behind. Things happen in games and sometimes the average viewer can’t account for what’s happening. Our guys’ ability to understand what the defence is doing in the run game as well as the pass game to give us the best looks, to be able to create explosive plays and stay on the football field… I’ve never been a part of a group like that.

“I think we all should be criticized for the way we finished that football game.”


Les Maruo, the Global linebacker by way of Japan and the University of Texas-San Antonio, will make his first career start on the weak side on Wednesday with Malik Clements moved to the six-game injured list. Veteran Jesse Briggs is also expected to see an increased workload.

“It’s been a crazy journey – going to Japan to play and then getting drafted to the CFL and going through that process of beginning to play on special teams, then play a little bit of linebacker to finally getting to start… it means a lot to me,” said Maruo, who had a sack and showcased his Karate Kid ‘Crane Kick’ in celebration.

“I’ve got great help. I’ve got Adam Bighill, which is like having a defensive coordinator right next to me. If I’m confused or have any questions, I literally have a cheat sheet right next to me. I have great D-linemen… Willie (Jefferson), Jackson (Jeffcoat), Jake (Thomas)… all those guys know the playbook inside-out and have been in the system for so long. Playing with those guys is a huge help.”


Lawler was all smiles Wednesday and, little wonder – this week will be his first game of the season, and it just so happens to come against the club with which he spent the 2022 season.

“A lot of people think I’m going to be out there fired up because I’m playing against my old team, Chris Jones and everything,” said Lawler. “I’m more focused on us right now and what I want to do and how I want to contribute and just boosting everyone up around me.

“I just want to pick up where I left off and focus on the play at hand. I just can’t wait to get out there. It’s been a long time coming, especially to get out there in the blue and gold. Man, it’s coming.”

“Kenny Lawler is an unbelievable talent and an unbelievable lift for the locker room,” added Collaros. “I’m not saying we needed a lift, but just having him back in there for his spirit, we’ll be able to feed off that. We only had one day, but he had fresh legs and practice and he was really rolling. Any time you get a player like that back in the lineup it’s a good thing.”